Here you thought University of Guelph football coach Stu Lang was generous when he conceded a safety from his team's 25-yard line during a 2013 playoff game against the Queen's Golden Gaels.
The reasoning for that strategy might have been specious. Acting on the "shame" of one of Canadian university football's legacy programs playing at rickety, rundown, ramshackle Richardson Stadium by becoming the lead donor for a stadium renovation, even while coaching a rival team, reveals the kind of big picture thinking that made Lang independently wealthy. On Saturday, Queen's confirmed earlier reports by The Globe & Mail and The Queen's Journal that Lang, even while he coaches Ontario University Athletics' Guelph Gryphons, is donating $10 million to revitalize Richardson. (The project is expected to cost at least $25 million.)
Could one imagine a U.S. college coaching icon such as Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski donating millions to upgrade the facilities at a school in his conference? Probably not; no offence to Coach K. But the economic scale of Canadian Interuniversity Sport is much different than at a major NCAA school, and institutions' priorities are often much different too. That's part of why 43-year-old Richardson Stadium fell into such disrepair, with sections of the bleachers being condemned prior to the 2013 season.
From James Bradshaw:
Richardson is the field where Mr. Lang played his last game for Queen’s as a star wide receiver in the early 1970s. During last year's playoff tilt, he felt deflated seeing yellow tape cordoning off rows of bleachers deemed structurally unsound, and the torn-up grass field beneath his feet.
“There was a real sadness to it, looking around,” Mr. Lang said. (The Globe & Mail)
Long story short, the Kingston, Ont., school had all three of its main sports venues — Richardson Stadium (football and soccer), Bartlett Gym (basketball and volleyball) and Jock Harty Arena (hockey) — near the end of usefulness at around the same point in the 2000s. The hockey arena was razzed to make way for a new recreation complex, which went so far over budget that plans for a new arena had to be tabled. That also made it hard to move on replacing Richardson, one of the few natural-grass football facilities still in use in CIS.
Fortunately for Queen's, Lang, retired president of CCL Label, has that kind of largesse. Plus it's already an open secret that he already ponied up to improve Guelph's stadium.
At the same time, [Lang] knows, “It’s a delicate question: Why is the head coach of Guelph doing something for Queen’s? Obviously it’s a need,” he said, and he hopes his gift will spur others to give to the revamp.
A source says Mr. Lang has donated generously, but anonymously, to Guelph’s programs. And last year, he gave $11-million to another school he attended, Toronto’s Upper Canada College.
Guelph president Alastair Summerlee said in an e-mail he is “always pleased to learn of alumni who give back to their alma mater.”
Neil Lumsden, an assistant football coach at Guelph and one of Mr. Lang’s former Eskimos teammates, scoffed at any would-be critics. “When the equipment comes off, they're student athletes. They're working towards a career. They're going to be leaders,” he said. “This isn't about competition. This is about building a future.”
At the present time, it doesn't appear this puts Lang in any conflict. One can certainly read some gratitude toward Queen's into this bequest, along with a certain amount of self-gratification at having the clout to make this happen. Intriguingly, though, this probably puts Lang right in the eye of a stormy debate between a few OUA schools who want to cap spending on football and others such as Guelph, Western, Queen's, Carleton and the defending Vanier Cup champion Laval Rouge et Or who are pushing the envelope with alumni and corporate funding. That shouldn't be sloughed off. There are only 27 CIS members who compete in football and having haves and have-nots jeopardizes competitive balance.
Lumsden's point, though, seems to cut to the heart of it: if you want the public and prospective students to take the notion of playing in Canada instead of the NCAA seriously, it needs to shown through investment. That's easier said than done, but not for Stu Lang.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.