Saturday, November 08, 2014

It’s come down to the nitty gritty of CIS’ gridiron season — the OUA sits at the crossroads of its semifinal series between the top three (plus one unpredictable Ottawa Gee-Gees) teams, the AUS has their championship final for the Loney Bowl and CanWest has no idea what’s going to happen after Manitoba defeated Saskatchewan Friday — of course before print — in a very high-scoring game.

For that, we look at what should, will and just simply cannot happen this week in Canadian university football.


What should happen?:

Laval loses to Concordia
I may be a bit bias when I say this, but I really just want to see someone knock Laval off their high horse. Yes — they are a perennial powerhouse of the CIS and it’ll take more than one regular season loss to Montréal for the club to come down from No. 1 in the country. Do I think Concordia’s the team to knock Laval off that pedestal? No. But it’d be nice to see.

Western will regain their “dominance”
Some people may read this and say, “Why would you want Western to win again? Why can’t Guelph win?” Simply, I do not think Guelph is that good, and to have them go to the Yates Cup on a win against a battered Western squad is just luck. If Western can defeat Guelph with almost no secondary, an inexperienced backup quarterback and every offensive weapon “questionable” or previously injured, then they’ll head into the Yates Cup with a load of confidence.

Mount Allison will win the Loney Bowl for the second-straight year
The Mount Allison Mounties deserve to win the Loney Bowl out of the AUS for many reasons. 1) They are the only team in the entire country to finish with a perfect 8-0 season. 2) They had arguably their best season offensively. 3) They ended up rising as high as 6th in the country on the CIS Top 10. 4) They would have the opportunity to play the OUA champion instead of being beat up by Laval. Mount Allison impressed me from game one to game eight, and while yes, they are an AUS team, we need to acknowledge the impressive run they are having.

Calgary gets a wakeup call
Wakey, wakey, Calgary Dinos. Considering the way the Dinos’ year has gone, they deserve a wakeup call that kicks them out of contention for the Vanier Cup. An illegible player ruling disciplined the defending CWUAA champions to give them their first loss of the season and their second loss came in a 50-31 defeat to the Manitoba Bisons to finish off the season — a game where Andrew Buckley, Mercer Timmis and Jake Harty all played from start to finish. The other close call? A narrow 42-41 victory over those same Bisons on a missed field goal.

McMaster loses to Ottawa
In his column this week, Neate Sager asks whether the first game really matters. Both Guelph/Western and Ottawa/McMaster are rematches of games where the unexpected happened. The Gee-Gees in the final game of the regular season thwarted the Marauders, 38-18, en route to securing them a playoff position. What happened next? Ottawa went on to upset the Windsor Lancers in their first home playoff game in ages. Regardless of whether or not Mac was resting its starters, the fact of the matter is that Ottawa can say they’re the only team in the OUA to defeat the Marauders, and will use that as confidence in a game that could have them pull off the ultimate defeat. Why can’t it happen? Because the football world is already on its head and it can’t handle another Cinderella story. But damn, it would be nice to see.


What will happen?:

Western will not two-peat, lose to Guelph
I hate admitting this because I truly do not believe the Gryphons are that good of a team, but when Western finished their quarterfinal game with a backup quarterback, a concussed Brian Marshall, an injured Garrett Sanvido, a questionable George Johnson — you get the idea, as Morris Dalla Costa pointed out for the London Free Press — there were few question marks around whether Western will be able to compete. Their secondary is destroyed, and unless the weather plays against the Gryphons and helps Western out, I think we’re going to see the Guelph back in the Yates Cup final.

Laval will waltz into the RSEQ final
As much as I would love an upset, Laval is just too good. Even on a bad day, Laval still plays better than most teams in the country. Concordia’s not strong enough, and the only team that can beat Laval competitively is Montréal — a potential matchup in the RSEQ final. But right now, we’ll have to sit back and sulk as Laval walks over another club en route to another potential Vanier appearance.

St. FX will be scrutinized if they can’t beat Mount Allison
“Unsustainable” is the word of the month for the St. FX X-Men. Regardless of the steep hill they have in the AUS final against a very strong Mount Allison team, if they can’t pull out the win, the club will be reevaluated to see whether or not it is worth sustaining — why put resources into something that can’t win or bring in revenue? St. FX hasn’t won a provincial championship since 1996 and before then won 11. If money isn’t flowing into the program, it can’t grow. Talk of the future of the St. FX football team will be heavily influenced by their performance Saturday.



Editor’s note: At the time of print, Saskatchewan had already lost to the Manitoba Bisons to move on to the CWUAA final. Which on its own was a surprising turn of events. What will Manitoba do next?!

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

What we learned this week is a weekly column on the latest developments in the men's and women's CIS basketball scene. This will focus largely on team's in the top ten, using metrics, game tape and (hopefully) interviews to provide a unique perspective on Canadian university hoops. 

Men's CanWest is wide open

One weekend teaches you very little, and the results are not likely to be accurate predictors. But still, the opening weekend of men's CIS basketball showed us one thing: CanWest will be the most entertaining conference this season.

I watched film from both Alberta-Saskatchewan men's games. The Golden Bears are nursing injuries already, while playing deep bench guys heavy minutes. The Huskies are still acclimatizing to a new rotation, with Mike Scott taking the main offensive role and other players being asked to carry more of the scoring burden.

Seeing the teams split the games wasn't necessarily surprising. Alberta's offence came together as the first game went on but I really liked the minutes that Brett Roughead gave them defensively. Roughead is listed as 7 feet tall, but according to the broadcast, Alberta's measuring tape stops at 7 feet and the coaching staff thinks he's probably got another inch on him. The third-year big man started the second game and got three blocks in 19 minutes of play. His agility in the paint is a work in progress, but Roughead uses his length to compensate for that.

Scott, the latest in a series of dynamic American gunners coming north and lighting up the CIS, had a weird weekend. He played 27 minutes off the bench in the first game and only six the next night. There was no traumatic injury, he just got pulled off in the second quarter after traveling before a three. Perhaps a nagging injury forced Sask to shut him down for the night. Otherwise, weird to see the drop off. For now, it's a balanced offence with Matthew Forbes bruising in the paint.

The short rotations for either team put an asterik on the performances, but if this is representative of how two CanWest contenders are going to look this season, it might not be the prettiest season.

That being said, Calgary and Winnipeg played a heck of a second game. The pace in the first quarter was really quick yet in control. What stuck out to be was the smoothness of the Dinos offence at times. They have a handful of versatile players, and Calgary's Dallas Karch put together a sweet 14 point (6-7 shooting), seven rebound, four assist game. His only miss came near the end of a possession where he was pinned under the basket. Small sample size, but he is a nice piece for them and will be a match-up nag for opponents.

 Neither the Wesmen or Dinos had any interest in defence the second game, but if you were watching for entertainment (guilty as charged) it was worth the time. Side-note: Winnipeg's court-design is bizarre. The black and red make for an awesome colour scheme, but splitting the area inside the arc with those? Weird.
The colour is a nice change from the snow-white Winnipeggers usually see, I guess
The final relevant game was the UVic taking on Regina. The Cougars deserve a top ten vote for the jerseys they wore. They looked damn good, very Washington Wizards-esque.

swoon
UVic played well enough. It is hard to put too much stock in their performance, given the opponent. Chris McLaughlin is a beast, and Regina did not have anyone to physically match up with him. (I don't know how many teams in the country will have someone to guard him, though). Marcus Tibbs, who broke out at the CIS Final 8 tournament, looks real good off the dribble and the chemistry between him and McLaughlin is already apparent. These guys will grow as the year goes on and will test for the CanWest championship.

Sask, Alberta open season in clash of CanWest titans
The Pandas (I hate when schools different names for men's and women's program) were ranked No. 3 to start the season, and they solidified their position with a couple of wins over then-No. 6 Saskatchewan. Sask dropped to No. 7, despite no other conference playing games. I think that's a bit unfair after watching the game.

Alberta made a ton of bad passes in the first half of game No. 1, forcing balls into cutting post players. They have some good perimeter defenders, annoying Sask ball handlers the entire game. That being said, the Huskies shot 5-20 from three in the first game, and a handful of those shots were wide-open looks.

Dalyce Emmerson -- an All-Canadian last year -- struggled, and that really was the difference. Emmerson shot 60.1% last year, second-best in the country. This weekend, she shot a collective 8-19. It's early, but Emmerson only shot under 50 per cent in four of her 19 regular season games.

It was close until the very end, so I don't really think we learned anything from this series. The coaches saw something I didn't, considering they dropped Sask a bit.

UVic and Winnipeg put up convincing wins, but it was surprising to see Regina lose by 20 while giving up 89 to the Vikes. Regina was leading after a quarter, 20-13, but two 31-point quarters from Vic turned this into a rout. The box score from the first game is worth a look. Two teams to keep an eye on as the season gets going.

What to watch this week: 

Victoria at UBC - Men's and Women's

Both of these games can teach us something. The men's squad at UBC had a down year in 2013-14, but expectations are high for them. At No. 7 in the top ten and the highest-ranked CanWest team, this team should make a run to the Final 8, provided they stay healthy.

UBC's women's team is ranked second, and we could see how tight the CanWest race will be if Victoria can hang tough (or possibly steal a game).

Acadia at UNB - Men's

How good is UNB? This game, against a new-look Axemen squad (new head coach, no Owen Klassen) will provide a glimpse into what the Varsity Reds will look like going forward. Also, Javon Masters is playing so you should try to watch him whenever you can.

St. FX at Saint Mary's - Women's

Without Justine Colley, how will Saint Mary's score? I know they still can score, but it is never easy to replace one of the best scorers in recent CIS history. Worth a view just to see how the Huskies acclimatize to their new situation.

McMaster at Ottawa/Carleton - Men's

This should be at the top of everyone's viewing list this weekend. The No. 4-ranked team against the No. 2 and No. 1? And they've played each other twice, in the regular season and playoffs? And there are high school buddies going against each other? And Mac's last trip to Carleton saw them hang 88 on the Ravens? Yeah, I'm in. I'll actually be in-house for both games, calling the games for the McMaster radio station. I'm hoping for an improved experience, as Ottawa had fans dropping homophobic slurs towards players when I visited two years ago.

Everyone else - it's opening weekend

Watch your team, and let's see what happens. We lost some major names last year and there are more teams than I listed who have to find themselves. Should be a fun one.

That's all I've got this week. Let me know what I missed in the comments and enjoy the games.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Started from the bottom

The return of CIS basketball is imminent, but the who's who of teams are a relative unknown compared to previous years.
The elite tier of teams — meaning those with serious contention for the national championship — is a thin group. Unlike years past, the gap between those contenders as the rest of the league is not as large. Definitely ranking the teams this early in the season is an exercise in futility, but it is worth the time to provide a baseline for who we should be paying attention to in the first part of the season.
Top five
1.     Carleton
2.     Ottawa
3.     McMaster
4.     Ryerson
5.     Cape Breton
Yeah, this is an OUA-heavy top-five, but bear with me.

Carleton
Carleton gets the number one spot until they prove to be beatable. The obvious question mark is who takes Tyson Hinz’s minutes, but Jean Emmanuel Pierre-Charles is capable of sliding in and filling the gap. There are other key losses: Clinton Springer-Williams and Kevin Churchill are both gone. Head coach Dave Smart used a variety of guards and any regression from the guard spot should only be brief. They will miss Churchill’s passing from the post, which was an overlooked aspect of the Ravens potent three-point shooting. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for Ottawa to usurp them in the rankings, but Carleton has the legacy to separate them.

Ottawa
Ottawa is a curious case. They’re going to be good, we know that. But the book is out on them: shoot tons of threes and play at a crazy-high tempo. Teams will be able to adjust to them, and some squads have built themselves in a similar model. The only notable major turnover Ottawa is experiencing is Terry Thomas, who went pro after the season. He has been replaced with Alex Ratte, a pure scorer out of Laurentian.

Ratte is a transfer after graduating from the Sudbury, Ont. university. He has two years of eligibility remaining and should provide head coach James Derouin with some interesting options. Suiting up for the Gee-Gees will be a welcome change for Ratte, as the number of offensive options is a 180 from his time at Laurentian. This team is a national contender, but have teams figured out how to beat them?



McMaster

McMaster sits third, but an upset over Carleton or Ottawa (or, possibly but unlikely, both) in the opening weekend of the season would vault them into the top two. Mac is easily the deepest squad in the OUA, and more importantly, continuity. Depending on how the coaching staff allocates minutes, they will have added one or two major pieces - David McCulloch and Troy Joseph. The benefits of continuity are showing already, as McMaster has rolled their preseason opponents. On paper, Mac deserves the third spot. We will not have to wait long to see if their on-court production justifies the ranking.


Ryerson

And now, we move to Ryerson, one of the more intriguing teams in the league. The Rams made the Final 8 by upsetting Lakehead in the 2012 OUA Final Four. Since then, well, there has not been many positives. Ryerson will be back in the national championship, hosting the tournament at the fantastic Mattamy Athletic Centre. How much noise they make there? Well, that is tough.

Roy Rana’s roster is laden with veterans. The guard core of Jordan Gauthier, Jahmal Jones and Aaron Best play at a high tempo and love to shoot. But … they are known entities. You can’t dance around this fact. That group is solid and not the problem.

The forward crop is thin. Kadeem Green, Bjorn Michaelsen, and Juwon Grannum are the main front court players from last year, but they do not offer the same level of contribution as bigs on elite teams. Green’s 23.5 minutes per game lead the team - not a good sign considering the options behind him are not good.

Cape Breton

Cape Breton’s preseason has given them a bit of steam heading into the first poll. They have beaten St. FX (twice), UNB, Dalhousie, UPEI, UQAM and Calgary. Their only loss came against McMaster in the final of the Cape Breton exhibition tournament, but they dropped 90 points on a team that will be in the Final 8 conversation.

The Capers were 9-11 in AUS play last year, but they return all of their main roster pieces. Young players like Seth Amoah have stepped up, showing improvement you would expect from a guard entering his third year. He earned an All-Star spot in the CBU tournament.

Scoring was their issue last year, finishing 40th of 45 teams in points per game. There were some RSEQ squads and Algoma below them, which is a damning sign.

Their preseason numbers suggest they have shored up the offensive woes. Through eight preseason games, they have averaged 89 points per game.

Cape Breton deserves some top-ten recognition and there’s a ton of transition around the league. I expect them to land at fifth due to a combination of a) OUA voter fatigue (Windsor has a claim to the fifth-spot, but an all-OUA top five is unlikely) b) consistent preseason work c) no serious competition from any other conferences (yet).

The season opens on Oct. 31, with a slate of Canada West games tipping off on Halloween. More so than in recent years, the league is up for grabs. Enjoy.

-----

Ed. note: I will be attempting to create a Google Doc sheet with offensive and defensive ratings for teams. It’s a better metric for judging teams. The reality is, points scored and points against are antiquated measurements and we want to push conversations forward.

I’m hoping that other student newspapers or CIS hoops outlets can use this info. If you have other metrics that you would really like me to crunch, please let me know at scott1hastie at gmail dot com.
CIS football is in a bit of danger.

Within the 2014 season, two programs have considered shutting down. Originally reported by CanadaFootballChat.com, the University of Waterloo told players and administration that there was a “strong possibility” that the program would fold after this season. This was denied by the university, but athletic director Roly Webster said, "If we can't justify our investment, I'd say (folding the team) is absolutely a consideration. I'd be lying if I said it's not."

Now, the details of St. Francis Xavier’s Presidential Task Force report have surfaced. The football program has been deemed “unsustainable” by the university — the administration’s worst category for ranking programs at the university. In a screen capture from the PDF, the comments do not provide much room for optimism.

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 12.12.56 PM.png

For reference, the university’s definition of unsustainable can be found in this screen capture from the St. FX report slideshow.



Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 12.16.34 PM.png


Two programs discussing shutting down is newsworthy. Even if they do not actually follow through, the consideration means this is not likely to be an isolated issue. Programs are feeling the financial pinch as the cost of competing has ramped up. I wrote about the issue of funding for my school newspaper, and the issue isn’t going away.

Which brings me to a Newsweek piece about Laval, and the angle that isn’t addressed in the article. The author speaks glowingly of the Laval football experience, saying it rivals (and even bests) the NCAA environment. Inaccuracies aside, it’s a good read. 

Laval has changed the game for CIS football. They have a rabid fanbase, a dedicated alumni benefactor group and a really damn good team, year-after-year. The standard for excellence has been raised, and that is important. Carleton University’s adoption of the mega-funding model has them sitting in a really good position for a second-year program.

But we’re now seeing the fallout that comes with this. Teams are realizing they cannot compete on a national scale, and that attempting to do so is a waste of resources. The financial barrier to success is lower in other sports and athletic departments may see that to be a more efficient use of a limited pool money.

The landscape of CIS football changed nearly 20 years ago, but we’re seeing the real ramifications now. If a couple of teams drop out, could we see others follow suit?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The season has barely begun in CIS men’s hockey, and already we have one coach going off on an opposing coach through the media. And is not about anything that happened on the ice, and they don’t even play in the same conference. If you guessed UNB Hockey might be involved, well then you have a pretty good sense of one of the main sources (targets?) for drama in the CIS.

The subject of the tension is Francis Beauvillier, a sixth round draft of Florida in 2012, who played for four different teams in the QMJHL. After he didn’t get an AHL contract this autumn, the speedy forward from Sorel-Tracey, Quebec decided rather than play down a level in the minors in the ECHL it might better to attend university. We know this because he announced it on Twitter, and he also stated he was going to be a Varsity Red (even before UNB announced his recruitment). He arrived in Fredericton last week and was in the V-Reds line-up on the weekend in their home games versus Dalhousie and StFX. Beuvillier picked up two points in the two games, including his first goal, and doesn’t look at all out of place in the UNB attacking style of play.

Marc-Étienne Hubert, head coach of the UQTR Patriotes, reacted very angrily and very publicly to the news that UNB had landed a prized student-athlete that he thought he had successfully recruited. In the local Trois-Rivières paper Le Nouvelliste Hubert accused UNB of “contourner les règles” (bending the rules) and he said UNB “offre des cadeaux, possiblement de l'argent” (offered gifts, possibly money) to convince Beauvillier to spur Trois-Rivières for Fredericton.

Hubert offers some details. “On a des informations privilégiées, des preuves. Lors de certaines discussions avec les joueurs, le message a changé et on comprend que UNB a contourné les règles. Ce n'est pas les mêmes règles pour tout le monde et c'est frustrant. On s'aperçoit que c'est David contre Goliath.” (“We have inside information, evidence. In some discussions with players, the message has changed and it is understood that UNB bends the rules. It is not the same rules for everyone and it is frustrating. We see that it is David versus Goliath.”)

It gets better (or worse). Hubert goes on to accuse all the AUS hockey schools in the Maritimes of breaking the rules, and comes off sounding very parochial (or regionally biased) in the process.

“Lorsque j'ai rencontré les entraîneurs de la conférence des Sports universitaires de l'Ontario, ils étaient tous, particulièrement ceux de la région de Toronto, vraiment outrés par la situation et par la quantité de joueurs qui, pour la même qualité de programme et d'enseignement, vont choisir une université dans les Maritimes. Si ces universités suivent le règlement et ne donnent pas d'argent à ces joueurs, ça leur coûtera très cher d'aller dans les Maritimes plutôt que de rester chez papa et maman. Si j'ai besoin de lait, je vais au dépanneur à côté de chez moi, je ne fais pas 25 km pour aller le chercher à Shawinigan.”

Excuse me if my translation isn’t perfect, as I did come up through a school system in the Maritimes:

“When I met with other coaches in the OUA conference, they all, and particularly in the Toronto region, are truly outraged by the situation and the quality of players who, despite the same quality of instructional programs here, chose to go to university in the Maritimes.  If these universities follow the rules and do not give money to the players, it would be a lot more expensive to go to the Maritimes rather than stay home with Dad and Mom. If I need milk, I go to the convenience store close by; I don’t go 25 km and look for it in Shawinigan.”

Well, you can imagine that didn’t go over very well chez UNB. In the same news article, V-Reds head coach Gardiner MacDougall is quoted as saying “C'est un grand manque de professionnalisme de sa part, lance-t-il. Nous avons le plus bel aréna et de grosses foules. Tout les profits sont retournés à l'équipe. C'est ce qui fait que nous avons le meilleur programme et que les joueurs se joignent à nous.” (“It is a great lack of professionalism on his part. We have the finest arena with big crowds. All the profits go to the team. This is so that we have the best program and that players want to play with us.”)

The Shawinigan newspaper, L’Hebdo du St-Maurice, also had a story last week on the former Cataractes player and his decision to play for UNB. Beauvillier says that once the Florida organization decided to send him down to the ECHL he reflected that it might be better to go to school now, rather than start when he was 28 years old. He’s always liked marketing and wants to get a business degree.

He said he came close to choosing UQTR over UNB, but ever since he was 16 he’s wanted to become bilingual and that made the difference. He wants to read, speak and work in English. “Ça a été une décision très difficile. J'ai changé à plusieurs reprises. J'hésitais entre l'UQTR et l'UNB, mais le fait que je désire devenir bilingue depuis que j'ai 16 ans a fait pencher la balance. Je vais lire, écouter et travailler en anglais. Ça va m'aider encore plus.”

It is probably comes as no surprise that both UNB and the AUS have responded to Hubert’s comments through a series of phone calls and official letters of complaint to UQTR and the RESQ and OUA conferences. The CIS has also been apprised of UNB’s dissatisfaction with Hubert’s comments and aspersions. So far I have not heard about any consequences for the UQTR coach, but I know for a fact that such comments within the AUS would certainly earn you a suspension.

In today’s Daily Gleaner (pay-walled), Athletic Director John Richard made it clear that UNB is pretty peeved with the published comments and are seeking a public apology and some sort of discipline imposed on Hubert.

"Any time you work 23 hours a day, seven days a week like he (Gardiner MacDougall) does on one program, and someone takes a run at your program, you're going to get defensive," Richard said. "And he should. From the second I saw the comments, I thought they were way over the line. And everyone I've talked to from our conference with whom I've had this conversation agrees with me. It's way over the line. It's not grey.

"We feel this AUS conference is the best hockey conference in Canada. The tough part to swallow all the time is all the accusations coming from the rest of the country toward this conference."

Richard strongly backs his hockey coach.

"I've talked to Gardiner, and more importantly, I've talked to the student-athlete too. These are young men who have been making decisions since they were 15, 16 years old about where they're going to play hockey and what they're going to do. These guys aren't kids. They're men making decisions with their best interests in mind.

"I know our coach is really aggressive in recruiting," Richard said. "But I've never seen him drive to some other town, lock the kid up in his trunk and bring him to Fredericton and kidnap the kid. The guys that are here want to be here and I don't think he's (Bouvillier) any different."

Coincidentally the AUS AD’s had arranged some time ago to meet last week at Mount Allison University to discuss a variety of hockey related topics. No doubt this had to do with the AUS trying to be proactive after the CIS quietly announced this August the results of their investigation of the Dalhousie men’s hockey program, including the fact that Dal was to be sanctioned for two years, including last season. 

AD’s discussed hiring an employee or an independent firm to audit the hockey programs for compliance with CIS regulations, but there has been no firm movement yet. UNB’s Richard is in full support of the idea and said “I will be one of the schools to put my hand in the air and volunteer that we go first. I'll be at the front of the line." The AD’s also discussed the idea of a “letter of intent” to keep competing coaches from poaching potential recruits.

This is news in itself -- that the AUS AD’s can come up with recruiting improvements for men’s hockey other than the “UNB rule” that now limits roster sizes to 22 skaters. Now that they have to deal with the fallout from the Hubert accusations, maybe the AD’s can find the common ground to accelerate their desire to dial back the recruiting wars within the AUS.

UPDATE: In his weekly sports column in the Oct. 31 issue of The Daily Gleaner, Bill Hunt reported that UNB has yet to receive so much as an apology from UQTR and have elevated the issue to the CIS.
"If we received something like 'We apologize. We know that doesn't happen. We've spoken to our coach and it won't happen again,' we probably would have moved on," said (UNB Athletic Director John) Richard. "That's not what we received. Not even close."
CIS director of operations and development Tom Huisman is offering no comment:
"A condition of launching any complaint or appeal is that everyone involved agrees to a total media ban," he said. "If there is such a complaint run through the system, the final result will be made public."

Monday, September 29, 2014

Photo by Shelby Blackley
The Marquee Matchup of the week for Ontario University Athletics proved to be anything but -- with another blowout again on the horizon.

The Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks hosted the Carleton Ravens in what was anticipated as one of the "more exciting" games of the week. Carleton was coming off a tremendous hail mary pass to win the Panda Bowl, and the Hawks were back from a bye week after obliterating the Waterloo Warriors, and were playing in front of around 7,500 fans.

Coming into the game, expectations were that this game would be "close" -- people I talked to thought maybe a 14-point spread in favour of the Hawks, but nothing like what they saw on Saturday.

Laurier walked away handedly with a 36-3 victory and moved into fourth in the OUA.

"You're never quite sure coming off a bye week. We tried to keep our schedule as close to normal as we could, and our guys came out and played. Offence, defence, special teams all played really well," head coach Michael Faulds said.

Laurier's team is improved -- they're one of the few teams that was a "have-not" last year (albeit also considered one of the "best 1-7 teams in recent history), but found a way to reformulate their team and turn into a contender.

Their script has gone as expected -- defeat Toronto, Waterloo and Carleton and lose a close game against the Windsor Lancers, one of three teams left undefeated.

But the big issue here is that the teams that Laurier played have a combined record of 7-11.

Doesn't seem like that big of a spread, right? How about the teams that the top-seeded Western Mustangs played through the course of their first four games -- which have a combined record of 3-16.

There's a distinct line within the OUA, with four teams sitting with a 1-4 record of worse, while five teams sit with a 3-1 record or better.

The issue isn't even just with the OUA. Look at Quebec, where the Laval Rouge et Or make the RSEQ look like the easiest route back to the Vanier Cup with a recent 70-3 victory over the McGill football team.

In Week 4/5 (depending on the conference), the closest game was a 42-41 victory for the Calgary Dinos over the Manitoba Bisons Friday night.

The spread for every other game (winner/loser, not including the Calgary/Manitoba game)? Let me pull out my calculator.

406-63.

I know I'm preaching to the choir when I complain about the parity issue across the CIS. As Morris Dalla Costa said in his most recent piece on the Western Mustangs,

"Those four wins made as an emphatic statement on the weakness of Canadian university football as one can make. There are far more have-nots than haves and except in exceptional years, the haves continue to have while the have-nots are embarrassed.

How to fix the weekly beating the have-nots are forced to suffer is something that won't be easy to figure out, but in some fashion a solution needs to be found or the popularity of university football, and on some campuses its very existence, will remain on a razor's edge."

So, how do we fix this? The lack of parity has always existed in university football, but the issue has become more and more prominent in recent years. There are those exceptional teams that make every other game interesting, but you're lucky if you get two games that keep your eyes glued to the screen.

Those have-nots are without for years and have no way to rebuild their programs while the haves run the score up; some coaches even use it as an extra practice before playing the "harder" teams.

This is the reason that major sports broadcasting stations don't take a second look at the regular season games. If the conferences can't guarantee competitive games, and most of the time will martyr their weaker opponents in lieu of their more promising candidates for the national title, how do you expect viewers nationally to be intrigued?

Laurier pulled Dillon Campbell out of the game 2.5 quarters in on Saturday. Even including the Windsor game, Campbell hasn't played a full four quarters and still leads the country in rushing yards and touchdowns. He has more rushing yards on his own than the entire York Lions team.

Laval's journey back to the ever-desired Vanier Cup becomes infinitely easier the more parity becomes a common practice in the CIS. With a sanction just laid on the Calgary Dinos, there could be some interesting weeks ahead.

But it's taken an ineligible player to make things intriguing in CanWest. What's it going to take to make the entire country interesting?

Sunday, September 21, 2014


Photo by Kyle Brown
With just 25 seconds on the clock, the Carleton Ravens were staring down 105 yards of turf separating them from a shocking upset.

As time expired, Jesse Mills launched a hail mary pass from 55-yards out and the football gods answered.

Nathaniel Behar scooped the ball into his hands off a deflection of Ottawa Gee-Gees defensive back Randy Williams. From there, he ran uncontested for 10 yards into the endzone and Panda Game history.

This year’s Panda Game marked the first time the game was played at Lansdowne since 1998. Carleton disbanded their football program following the 1998 season, and last year’s game was played at Ottawa’s on-campus stadium.

Saturday, 12,500 students descended on Ottawa’s brand-new stadium, TD Place. Whereas last year’s game lacked any real energy, fans of both schools hurled “F**k you, Ottawa/Carleton U” chants as they walked down Bank Street and through the front gates prior to kickoff. They kept them going throughout the game.

Ottawa’s fans were lined up at the stairwells in the north side stands, ready to storm the field as the final five seconds ticked off. As Behar collapsed at the back of the endzone, the whole stadium went quiet for just a split second as everyone tried decipher what had happen. Then the south side stands cleared. It is the stuff legends are made of, and for Behar it was certainly a legendary day.

The sophomore wide receiver from London had a whopping 13 receptions totalling 276 yards. In addition to the winning touchdown with no time on the clock, Behar had two others, including an 18-yard reception where he broke through three tackles and leaped across the goal line to reinvigorate his team.

Photo by Kyle Brown
For Mills, the pass was the only one he made all game. Starting quarterback Nick Gorgichuk went 23 of 34 for 318 yards with two touchdowns.

Speaking to the Ottawa Citizen after the game, Gorgichuk commented on the Ravens’ decision to let Mills launch the ball towards the endzone.

“He has the arm to put it 80 yards down the field,” he said. “We had drawn that play up … and Nate came down with it. We couldn’t have drawn it up better and I couldn’t be more proud of our guys.”

The victory comes 20 years following Carleton’s last Panda Game win. While Ottawa still leads the all-time series by a 33-13 record, today’s game will immediately become one of the most legendary in this brutal rivalry.

It brought back memories of the old Panda Games. Fans from both schools were lobbing chants across the field throughout the game. As Ravens fans stormed the field following the catch, they instantly went to the north side stands to voice their pleasure, so to speak. Ottawa fans quickly responded with beer cans, water bottles and yes, one half-eaten hot dog.

Following the game, fullback Stefano Napolitano expressed his shock and excitement at the conclusion.

“I’m shocked right now, I knew what play we were calling, I knew that was the plan, like I said earlier that was like a one per cent chance play. I’m just in shock right now, it’s unbelievable,” he said.

Coming off a winless season, Carleton now find themselves at 2-2 on the year. With 500 total yards on offence, the Ravens are proving that they can compete, and that the way they built their program is paying off. Of course, they remain a young team, and their nerves were obvious in this big game. They racked up close to 150 penalty yards and fumbled the ball five times, but were lucky to only lose possession twice.

Still, with a .500 record and two winnable games coming up -- Laurier and Toronto --, they aren’t counting out anything.

“Honestly last year was kind of, I hate to say a write off, but we were going into games thinking 'hey, we’ve got to get better today, obviously we wanted to win, but this year at this point, we’re for real and we’re trying to prove to everyone that we’re for real.”

For the Gee-Gees, the loss now marks two straight, following a 42-7 thrashing at home last week against Guelph. Still, they showed flashes of brilliance, especially in their ground attack. They racked up over 300 yards on the ground, and had three different players with 70 or more rushing yards.

While the defeat will leave a bitter taste in the mouths of Ottawa’s players, they too can look forward to two bounce-back games, as they will face Toronto (1-3) and Waterloo (0-4).

As far as Ottawa sports go, Carleton hold on to bragging rights for the time being. Perhaps Gorgichuk said it best: "I don't think anyone at Carleton is going to forget it any time soon."

Monday, September 15, 2014

(Photo by Heather Davidson)
Originally when I titled this piece, it was going to say "Dillon Campbell is a scary force in the OUA."

But after watching DC post over 200 rushing yards quietly Saturday afternoon for the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks to bring his season total after three games to over 650, I started thinking "who in the CIS would be even close to him?"

Last year's Hec Crighton Trophy winner was Bishop's quarterback Jordan Heather after he set a new CIS record with 3,132 passing yards in a season. He beat Will Finch, Western's poster boy, who also set the CIS record that year, previously held by Michael Faulds, former Mustang quarterback and now bench boss of the Hawks.

Heather was good -- he deserved that trophy. No only did he shatter Finch's record posted just a week previous, but Heather played for a team that had to deal with the Laval Rouge et Or on a regular basis. But he was a fifth-year golden boy and his time to shine is gone.

So, who else could possibly be boasting a better track record three weeks into the CIS season?

It's not Will Finch, who has been mediocre thus far through two games for the 'Stangs: He's 42-for-57 with an impressive and country-high completion percentage of 73.7 per cent, with 572 yards.

The only reason I say "mediocre" is because five of his OUA counterparts boast the top-5 yardage in the OUA, followed by Laval and then James Fracas of the Hawks. Finch was the main contender in the offseason to be the OUA nominee for the Hec.

Derek Wendel of Ottawa, a quarterback who came out of nowhere this season, currently boasts 70-for-110 for 844 yards -- a CIS high. Queen's Billy McPhee, Toronto's Simon Nassar, Windsor's Austin Kennedy (who also has 362 yards per game after two games) and McMaster's Marshall Ferguson round out the top five.

But do any of them really have a huge, impressive number ratio like Finch or Heather had last year?

Now, we move to D. Campbell, who after three games is off on his own in the world of rushing. Although most teams in the CIS haven't played three games, Campbell's numbers are still obscene.

According to the CIS website, after three games, DC has 68 rushing attempts for 674 yards, averaging 224.7 yards per game and 9.9 yards a carry. He has scored five touchdowns and his longest rush was 98 yards against Toronto.

In a media scrum Saturday, we asked if Dillon got his knitting done in the second half of the game, as his day ended at 204 yards through just over two quarters.

"It's crazy to think about," Campbell smiled as five recorders were held in front of him. "The guys joked about it at half, 'DC, only 169 [yards] so far. What's going on?' When realistically, that's a great game, right?"

"Last season, my most in one game was 180 against Waterloo. And now, I'm averaging 200 a game through three games."

After three games, Campbell is already only 193 yards away from his OUA-leading 867 yards a year ago. THREE GAMES.

The next closest in the CIS is Ashton Dickson from St. FX, who has 369 yards after two games -- averaging about 184.5 yards a game.

It's hard to argue with the numbers, but it's also very early in the season. Laurier heads into a bye week this week while the rest of the CIS beats each other up. Laurier has five games when they return, three of which are against harder opponents than Waterloo or Toronto (Western, McMaster and Guelph to finish off the season respectively).

But if Campbell can continue to boast numbers where he's en route to beating his record from a year ago -- he's en route for 1,800 yards if he continues where he is now -- that made him a sensation after once being buried in a depth chart, I will be the first to start the #CampbellforHec campaign.

Disclaimer: Shelby has covered the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks for over three years.