Seeing the Light

New CEO Graham Brown on New Challenges and the Inclusion of Men’s Rugby in Canadian Interuniversity Sport

  • Graham Brown was unveiled as the new CEO of the CIS Photo Alex D’Addese

The new CEO of the governing body of university sports, Graham Brown, is presently transitioning to his new job and bringing his business expertise from his current one as CEO of Rugby Canada.

The Canadian Interuniversity Sport announced Brown as its new CEO on Sept. 3 at Ryerson University. The Link contacted Brown in England, where he cheered on the nation at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

The University of Windsor graduate gained notoriety by taking a professional approach to amateur sport organizations, elevating their statuses in the process.

“When I first started at Rugby Canada there were a lot of issues, we were a small staff; we were little bit in debt,” Brown said. “There was a really great opportunity there and I think that’s where I see the CIS right now.

“I think one thing I’ve learnt [at Rugby Canada] is how difficult things seem, but if you have a vision and everybody is buying into it, there is always light at the end of the tunnel.”

What made Brown’s appointment stand out were his clear intentions of turning the CIS into a business. This vision was at the epicentre of his former appointments, namely him turning Rugby Canada from a $2.5 million business into a $15 million one. This strikes similarities with CIS as the national organization is currently generating $2.5 million per year, which, according to Brown, is “just barely keeping the lights on.”

“Sports, and there are a number of them, have changed their business models to a strong governance, hiring very good staffs, follow strategic business plans that report in a transparent manner, and have a vision to grow not just to maintain,” said Brown. “I think that was CIS’s biggest challenges along the way. There wasn’t much growth; they just maintained the business.

“If you are a business, you are trying to do this four quarters a year; each quarter you want to be better than the last quarter and that was the approach we took in rugby,” Brown said. “I think that when you’ll walk into the CIS office in a couple of years, you will find that it is very business-like, very professional.”

Despite ruling out immediate inclusion of men’s rugby—only women’s rugby is currently in the CIS—Brown said he isn’t for the CIS’s current regulation that if a sport is added into the CIS, another sport must be removed to accommodate it. This model is similar to what is done for the Olympics, according to the new CEO.

“If a sport like rugby is doing a very good job to develop and elevate itself, it shouldn’t have a prerequisite that in order to make it in the CIS, another male sport has to drop out.”

Another great barrier for openness to new sports in CIS is funding. The increase in wealth would make it possible to create more and give leeway to bend rules and regulations.

If the CIS brings enough wealth to the organization, Brown believes that men’s rugby can eventually have its own national championship. However, Brown stresses a new championship should not be implemented if it is a “burden to the CIS or to the schools.” Unlike the NCAA, a national championship berth for most sports can be a sign of financial burden more than financial success.

“I don’t think it’s fair to say that you are going to have [men’s rugby] as a CIS sport now, but if we can turn the CIS into a more profitable enterprise, those decisions will be easier.”

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