Thursday, August 21, 2014

CIS football's problem is not doping, it's funding

It has not been a great week for CIS sports.

On the heels of the announcement Sportsnet's dropping of OUA football coverage, the other Canada sports broadcasting has jumped in with their own news: three CIS* football players tested positive for banned substances at the 2014 CFL Combine in Edmonton, Alta. 

There is an asterisk here because, well, there are holes in the details of TSN's story. Andrew Bucholtz's of The 55-Yard Line (and this tiny corner of the sporting blog world) pointed out the issues.


So, it could be three CIS players, and to narrow it down, three CanWest players. The only players at that Edmonton combine were from the Canadian Junior Football League and CanWest football programs. From Rick Westhead's piece, CIS President Pierre Lafontaine confirmed that "multiple players" tested positive. Possibly just an oddity in the writing, but we'll operate under the assumption that some CIS football players have been caught taking a banned substance.

Westhead's take on the situation is that there is a funding problem for the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport and it is hard to disagree with him. According to his article, the cost to do a single drug test is $1,000. The majority of the fee goes to labs and doping control officers. As it stands, the CCES receives $5.4 million in funding from the federal government and has been frozen at that for "recent years." The responsibility to fund doping tests should not fall solely on the government, but at this rate, it is almost entirely on the shoulders of the league.

CIS football probably has a doping problem, but there's just no money to do the tests. The government wants Olympic athletes tested, according to Westhead, and there are not many Olympians that play CIS football.

The actual problem here is the shoestring budget that the league operates on and the side-effects of that. I am not naive, money rules many things around the CIS, but this is a little bit of a bigger issue than our best athletes going to the NCAA or something. Outside of hockey, sports are funded poorly in this country and you are seeing the ugly side of it here, but I would hope that taking (potentially) dangerous drugs would be discouraged more than they are right now.

The financial incentive to take a PED is not as glamorous as it is for athletes in the NCAA, but there's an incentive nonetheless. Success at the CIS level could translate in to a CFL contract as well as NFL training camp dollars. Playing the game you love for money cannot be measured by dollars only.
The CIS pledges to donate more money to police this, but that is not money well spent. If they invest more money from their already limited budget, at $1000 a test, how many athletes are you testing? Percentage-wise, how much higher could they go?

Going forward, costs will rise with new rules from the World Anti-Doping Agency looming. I am not saying test all the athletes, but there has to be more than what we have. Seeing more players getting tested could scare off potential users.

But like I said, this comes down to money, something the CIS is not flush with. The league could step up and spend more money on it, which would be commendable. Here's another idea, and I am just spitballing.

The CIS receives a certain percentage of money from the teams that are willing to spend over an established threshold. A doping cap, I guess. There are probably definitely issues with this I haven't thought of yet - like how you establish that cap figure - but it would discourage teams from spending Laval-esque amounts of money (parity!) and give the league more money to police and maintain an equal playing field.

To end, I do not think this is an issue we will see resolved any time soon. The Twitter discussion makes it seem like this is a long-standing issue and the government's funding freeze shows that they are not interested in stopping it. 10 days until the CIS football season though! Get excited!

Update: CCES has issued a statement about the TSN story. Nothing major, but important to including their release http://www.cces.ca/en/news-271-canadian-centre-for-ethics-in-sport-statement

(I eagerly await the first CIS football story from TSN that isn't a Canadian Press wire pick up. Who knows when it will come?)


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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

UPDATED: Sportsnet shows OUA sports the door


What a year.

Sportsnet has decided to stop airing OUA football as well as the Wilson Cup playoffs after only one CIS season.

The news comes via Scott Radley at the Hamilton Spectator, from the hyperlinked article above:

"Our broadcast rights agreement with the OUA has expired, so we will no longer be broadcasting OUA regular season football games or the (basketball) Wilson Cup," says Sportsnet director of communications Jennifer Neziol. "We're focused on building a national CIS presence and supporting CIS athletes across the country through our partnership with the CIS, which includes providing coverage of the Mitchell Bowl, Uteck Bowl and Vanier Cup, as well as the national championships for men's and women's hockey, and men's and women's basketball."
It should not be a surprise to hear that Sportsnet is giving up on covering the regular season of OUA football. On the business side, OUA football and basketball are not high value properties. Part of that can be blamed on Rogers itself - there is a lack of coverage of the league through the week, so the games just pop up on Saturday afternoons without any real buzz.

Sportsnet was tasked with creating fanfare for the league if they wanted to build the property. The OUA was more than willing to help. Marshall Ferguson - McMaster quarterback and a broadcasting partner of mine at Mac's radio station - reached out to Bryan Crawford, Executive Director of the OUA.

In conversation, Ferguson and I wondered about the impact of the lack of TV revenue and if there even was any. Crawford said the OUA "committed significant financial resources" to help with "SportsnetU" and "University Rush" broadcasts. In exchange, the OUA got visibility. Fair trade.

Jeff Giles, former athletic director at McMaster University, told Ferguson that there should not be a major impact on athletic department cash flow around the league.

"In the short term, there shouldn't be too much of an effect on the university's revenue as the TV numbers on Sportsnet the past few years have been terrible. Hopefully, OUA.tv can draw numbers close to them," said Giles.

Giles also offered a look at why Sportsnet dropped the property (outside of the idea that Rogers NHL deal was vacuum for funding). "The real issue here is the lack of interest for OUA football, as reflected in the [TV] numbers. In part, it relates to the lack of parity and in part poor marketing by everyone, including the schools, the OUA and in particular the TV networks."

"The TV networks say it does not look good given the low attendance. It's a catch-22 that needs to be fixed."

I think Giles is bang-on. Attendance is only good when it's a Homecoming game, which is why Sportsnet (and the Score) built their schedule around those games.

Parity is a big and well-known factor. Even the gap between the Yates Cup winner and the runner-up has been massive in recent years and the games that should be an easy sell to casual fans have results that are foregone conclusions.

Sportsnet giving up on the league after one year of coverage is nothing short of damning. If a sport is not on TV, does it even exist? In the age where TSN has five (!!!) stations and Sportsnet has four (Sportsnet [regional], 360, SN1 and Sportsnet World), you have to be a wholly unattractive property to not be picked up by someone. Both broadcasters ignoring the league also says to an impressionable first-year student that this stuff is not important.

And that is where OUA.tv comes in. If that can be some kind of draw and establish a consistent following, maybe OUA football becomes something of value. OUA.tv should have more cash now, since the league will not be spending anything to help Rogers broadcast.

I wrote glowingly about the OUA.tv launch and I stand by it. Radley questions the broadcast quality because he says it will be student-led broadcasts. For one, that is wholly unfair to the students who have not even streamed a game yet. Second, athletic departments are taking the lead on this.

Thirdly, let's not act like the Sportsnet broadcast was earning any awards for the quality of its broadcasts. It was passable, but you can find some passionate students to provide more insight about the teams, especially if covering this league is their sole responsibility.

As important as the casual viewer is, the OUA was never going to get them anyways. They directly compete with the glamorous NCAA, and people in Canada do not have the same affinity to their university's as our American counterparts do. I don't know if you're going to retain people as fans when they move on from campus.

Maybe I am too optimistic, but I do think the OUA can bounce back from this. Their target demographic should be students, and students do not pay for cable anymore - Netflix and torrents are the norm. There is no time to pout and look for a TV deal. Own the loss, make OUA.tv a student-friendly experience, and maybe someone will find you worth investment. If the OUA allows themselves to be defined by the value that national networks put in them, well, they will have less success than 2003-08 University of Toronto Varsity Blues football team.

--
Update on Aug. 20/14
You can end the speculation now because Morgan Campbell at the Toronto Star spoke with Scott Moore about the dropping of OUA football coverage.

Moore, president of Sportsnet, says it's all about the funds. A block quote here will save us some time:

But Sportsnet president Scott Moore says the network allowed the OUA deal to lapse because of high production costs and small audiences, not because NHL coverage would consume resources.
He says Sportsnet remains committed to Canadian university sports, broadcasting football, basketball and hockey playoffs from conferences across the country. But with 10 OUA regular season games averaging just 28,000 viewers last year, Moore says he couldn’t make a business case for keeping the games on the air.
“Even our biggest properties with the biggest rights fees, our cost per viewer to deliver those would be somewhere in the five- to 10-cent range,” he said. “The cost to produce a football game and have 28,000 people watch it is about $3 (per viewer).”

Now, the OUA's subsidizing of the broadcast is not addressed in the article. We don't know how much the OUA spent, but it would be really interesting to see what percent of those $3/viewer came from the OUA. Moore probably would not have talked about that anyways, because you do not become the president of a major sports broadcaster by taking the skeletons out of the closet.

Campbell writes, "[i]ronically, university-level football and basketball in the U.S. have never been a more valuable broadcast property." I would not say that is ironic in any way shape or form, considering the products are not similar. But I think he is hinting that there is a possibility for the league to grow within the country, given the state of footballing affairs in the States.

Another key line is that TSN and CBC are both not interested in picking up the league. The OUA's Bryan Crawford said that getting the league back on TV is a goal. In related news, I have a goal to go on a date with Alison Brie. At this current time, both goals are unlikely. 

Some more info on the topic:

Mac quarterback Marshall Ferguson gives us his thoughts on losing TV coverage: http://wearemarshallferguson.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/sportsnet-refuses-to-shine-spotlight-on-oua-leaving-athletes-in-the-dark-and-the-future-in-doubt/


Scott Radley joined Ferguson on CFMU radio to discuss the impact on OUA football (you just have to endure Rush for a couple minutes at the beginning): 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wD1wY6L0AQQ&feature=youtu.be



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How much stock should we put in the CIS-NCAA exhibition games?

James Park / Ottawa Citizen
As the 2014 summer comes to a close, the CIS vs. NCAA exhibition series is wrapping up. Courtesy of Martin Timmerman's cishoops.ca, the NCAA took the lion's share of the men's results, winning 19 of a possible 27 games. There are still a handful more to be played against RSEQ teams and York.

CIS men's teams have been able to bring that win-loss split closer to .500 for the Canadian squads. Rosters and talent levels of teams on either side are fluid, so it is not fair to say with a high degree of certainty whether the Canadian teams are improving. The trend over the past three years suggests that the CIS is closer than they were, though. All stats courtesy of cishoops.ca:

  • In 2011, 20 CIS teams combined to play in 61 exhibition games against a variety of NCAA division teams. NCAA teams won 51 of those games, a .830 win percentage. Carleton was responsible for five of Canada's ten wins.
  • 2012, 22 teams from the CIS played 57 games against NCAA competition. Again, the NCAA won the summer handily, taking 46-11 games (or, an .807 win percentage).
  • The upwards trend continued in 2013. There were less games against NCAA competition -- only 37 games between CIS and NCAA DI/II/III schools -- but the Canadian universities won a similar amount of games. The NCAA won 27 games and lost ten, a .729 win percentage. One of those wins was Carleton's over Wisconsin.
So, things are trending upwards, which is neat. And I don't really how much more it is than "neat." How much can we really learn from these games and are positive results -- meaning wins and close games -- against NCAA programs indicators for success during the CIS regular season.

I will dive in to the numbers, but let's get some contextual issues out of the way first.

Before NCAA programs come up here, they are afforded 10 practices in advance of the games per the NCAA's (draconian) rules. Canadian teams do not have those restrictions, and I've even heard some coaches jokingly say that it is an "11-and-a-half-month season" for elite CIS basketball programs.

So, on one hand, you've got one team with athletes that are allowed to play for five years and practice year-round. On the other, you have a team where athletes play for four years at most, and your best NCAA teams will lose players who opt to play professionally. (I understand that this happens in the CIS -- hello, Terry Thomas, Showron Glover, etc. - but not on the same level as NCAA).

And consider the rules difference between the NCAA and CIS. This is rudimentary for long-time CIS fans, but still worth rehashing. There are eight states in the U.S.A. that use some form of a shot clock. The NCAA uses a 35-second shot clock, and unless an American athlete has played with an international program, it is entirely possible that players are encountering their first ever 24-second shot clock situation.

The CIS plays under FIBA rules, which allows a more physical style of play. 6-foot-9, 300-pound Steve Forbes from IPFW was impressed with McMaster's physicality after an exhibition win earlier in August. Forbes is not alone in that feeling, as other teams have echoed the sentiments in previous years. 

This is a little more nuanced and hard to show without video or graphic evidence, but NCAA teams do not have the same time to prepare for CIS teams. There simply is not a lot of time to create game plans for the teams they are playing and these Americans play a lot of squads in a short period of time.

The example I'll use is Carleton's defence. Yes, we know it is very good, but the reason it is so damn effective has not been explored at length (yet). University of Vermont head coach John Becker discussed his team's issues to it in this summer's loss to the Ravens. As told to Wayne Kondro at the Ottawa Citizen: 


“[Ottawa and Carleton] are both really well coached but I thought Carleton was just a little bit better defensively,” said Catamounts coach John Becker. “(The Ravens) run at the ball and get a lot of strong-side help, and they’re a little bit bigger, but they’re both similar.

Carleton wants to force a team to the weak side, and that defence can trick players into making passes which are just not there. What separates Carleton from the rest is their personnel. Players like the Scrubb brothers and Jean Emmanuel Pierre-Charles (among countless others through the years) are so quick and long, they disrupt passes that most players could not get in the same scheme.

Even when CIS teams have comparatively endless amounts of time to prepare for Carleton's defence, they still struggle. An NCAA team, under new rules, in a brand-new environment, playing in their first real games together, is going to struggle too. 

So, we've established that there are some unique factors at play when these programs face off. But still, what does a positive result against an NCAA program mean fans can expect from their team in the following season? The charts below shed a little light.

2011 NCAA vs. CIS Exhibition series

Team
NCAA team defeated
Regular season wins
Regular season losses
2012 CIS Final 8 (finish, if applicable)
Carleton
Saint Louis (x2), UCSB, Illinois State,
Niagara
22
0
Yes (1st)
McGill
New Hampshire
10
6
No
Trinity Western
Santa Clara
10
8
No
UBC
UBC
13
5
No

2012 NCAA vs. CIS exhibition series

Team
NCAA team defeated
Regular season wins
Regular season losses
2012 CIS Final 8 (finish, if applicable)
Carleton
Buffalo Bisons, Northeastern Huskies
19
1
Yes (1st)
Windsor
South Alabama
16
5
No

2013 NCAA vs. CIS exhibition series

Team
NCAA team defeated
Regular season wins
Regular season losses
2012 CIS Final 8 (finish, if applicable)
Carleton
Towson, Texas Christian, Wisconsin
22
0
Yes (1st)
Alberta
Arkansas – Little Rock, Arkansas State
20
2
Yes (3rd)
Windsor
The Citadel (x2)
16
6
No
Ottawa
Texas Christian
20
2
Yes (2nd)
Calgary
Arkansas – Little Rock
7
15
No
McGill
Siena
14
2
Yes (consolation)


So, six of the 12 teams (I'm treating every season as a different team) that won an exhibition game against an NCAA team qualified for the Final 8. Only one of those six teams did not medal.

There are a ton of layers to these numbers. Teams like The Citadel University Bulldogs went 7-26 in their season but still count as an NCAA "win." And people treat them that way. If a team beats an NCAA team, my reaction is "well, great, but who did they play?" That is a compliment to the competitiveness of the league, by the way. If who you are beating matters, it means you're competitive with those teams, or at least approaching the status.

As far as the games being an indicator of future success in the CIS season, I think the sample size is a bit too small. But I am comfortable with saying it does not tell us much, as we get From these numbers, a 50 per cent chance does not illicit any confidence for the future of the team. One game probably would not sway my opinion of a team one way or the other, but it does matter in terms of public discourse and possibly CIS Top Ten rankings, which have an impact on the wild card spot for the Final 8.

If we're going to put meaning into these games, which is dangerous, given the reasons I outlined above, it is that the NCAA and CIS are closer than the average fan gives them credit for. Whether that means they could compete in weaker conferences, well, I do not know. But now, more than ever, its a conversation worth having.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

CIS football running notable roster additions and departures

As we gear up for another CIS football season, I've started to try and nail down roster turnover from one year to the next.

To the league's credit, the CIS has asked sports information departments to put together a "notables" list, with names and explanations of the players that are coming and going. However, the way they have shared that information is a little cumbersome. 

Each team will have their own page, which means you have to go through lots of clicks and loading to just get simple text information. Below, I've compiled all of the information on to one page, broken down by conference. I'm only including "Key Recruits or Transfers" and "Key Losses." If you're interested in seeing the key-returning players, they have write-ups available and I'll hyperlink to each separate preview.

Worth noting that all info is via this CIS page and I will cite the writer(s) of previews when possible. Also, this is the info available at the time. The CIS seems to be doing a slow leak of these. 

** This post was last updated August 20, 2014. There should be more previews available as we edge closer to opening day. 

AUS
St. FX - Krista McKenna, St. FX Sports Info

Key recruits or transfers:
RB Dejon Lynch (Nanaimo, BC), Sumner high school, Washington.
REC Jesse Alves (Barrie, ON), Joan of Arc
OL Pete Alexander (Saint John, NB), Saint John High
DE Kyle Forde (Ajax, ON), IMG Academy
DL Tyler Cordeiro (Oakville, ON), Holy Trinity
DL Sam Gan (London, ON), Central
K/P Keiran Burnham (Cambridge, ON)

Key losses:
REC Devon Bailey (Mississauga, ON)
OL Terry Hart (Barrie, ON)
FB Keegan Vosman (Antigonish, NS)
LB Brett Hubbeard (Peterborough, ON)
DE Samni Adereti (Brampton, ON)
DB Hugo Rajotti (Markham, ON)



Canada West

Alberta - 
Matt Gutsch, Alberta Sports Info

Key recruits or transfers: 
Jimmy Ralph (WR)
Joe McQuay (OL)
Justin Lawrence (OL) 
Levon Hawreliak (RB)
Josh Normandeau (DB)
Marshal Klein (DL)
Jordan Rae (DB) 
Colton Cardinal (DL)
Samson Abbott (DL)

Key losses: 
Jess Valleau (SB)
Smith Wright (FB) 
Steven Giang (DL)


Saskatchewan – Nicole Betker, Saskatchewan Sports Info

Key recruits or transfers:
Tyler Chow (RB)
Andre LaLonde
John Trumpy
Graham Unruh
Evan Machibroda (DL)
Tristan Koronkiewicz (DL)
Adam Morrison (DL)
Brennan Thorpe (DL)


Key losses:
Garrett Burgess (REC)
Jeff Moore (REC)
Lane Bryksa (OL)
Michael Fuller (OL)
Joel Seutter (DL)
Braxton Lawrence
Zach Hart


RSEQ
Bishop's - 
Marty Rourke, Bishop's Sports Info

Key recruits or transfers:

OL Matthew Ouelette-Decarlo 
FB Jake Rose 
QB Travis Eman 
DE Mathieu Breton 
DE Trey Hylton 
LB David L’Heureux
DB Alex Moreau Lacroix
DT Charles Belanger
K Vincent Dube

Key losses:
QB Jordan Heather (2013 Hec Crighton Trophy winner)
REC Alexander Fox (CIS leading receiver in 2013)
REC Stephen Adekolu (currently on the BC Lions roster)
RB Matt Burke
OL Kyle Handy
OL Tyler Harding
RB Ryon McCalla
DB/LB Ryland Smith (Defensive Captain)
DB O’Shane Daley (2013 BU Defensive MVP)
DL Brandith Blocker
K Vincent Dube 


OUA

Carleton - 
Carleton Sports Info

Key recruits/transfers:
Dimitri Vaillancourt, R
Raishaun Provo, RB
Ryan MacPherson, OL
Trevelle Wisdom, LB
George Saloum, DL
Kadeem Vaillancourt, DB
Andrew Banerjee, K


McMaster - 
Fraser Caldwell, McMaster Sports Info

Key Additions:
Esie Mboko (SB)
Dan Younan (OL)
Cameron Geddes (ATH)
Steve McNicoll (DB)
Andrew Ziebart (DL)

Key losses:
Mike Daly (DB)
Stephen Dennis (DB)
Aram Eisho (LB)
Jordan Cozzi (OL)
Michael DiCroce (REC)
Matt Sewell (OL)
Tyler Loveday (REC)



Ottawa – Jen Elliott, Ottawa Sports Info

Key recruits or transfers:
Jackson Bennett (RB)
Greg Cherniak (RB)
Bryce Vierra (RB)
Tanner Care (LB)
James Flemming (DB)
David Hron (LB)
Osas Obas (DL)
Jeff Radford (LB)
Felix Daigneault (K/P)

Key losses:
Aaron Colbon (QB)
Brendan Gillanders (RB)
Simon Le Marquand (REC)
Andrew Mullings (REC)
Rob Griffiths (LB)
Matt Bond (DB)
Julien Campbell (LB)


Wilfrid Laurier - 
Jamie Howieson, Laurier Sports Info

Key recruits or transfers:
Chase Malcolm (QB)
Brendan McCracken (REC)
Eli Fera (RB)
Jamie Lalonde (OL)
Rashari Henry (DL)
Isaiah Guzylak (DB)
Malcolm Thompson (DB)
Jaedon Christey (DB)
Jonathan Timmons (LS)
Nathan Mesher (K/P)

Key losses:
Isaac Dell (REC)
Felix Odum (DB)
Thomas Majka (COV)
Tre Nicholson (RB, ALC tear, out for the season)


York – Alyson Fisher, York Sports Info

Key recruits or transfers:
Jon Howard (RB)
Anthony Mandalfino (FB)
Mahlique Marks (REC)
Trey Cordle (DE)
Broderick Martin (DE)
Andrew Masson-Wong (LB)
Rees Paterson (DB)
Kobena Toku (LB)


Key losses:
William Austin (REC)
Errol Brooks (RB)
Myles Gibbon (QB)
James Tuck (DE)

(Shelby and I discussed crowdsourcing the information for other teams but realized it would quickly become rumour-mongering. We'll continue to consolidate the info when we get it.)

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