When you live inside your head the way I do, the trade-off is that whatever gain there is in creativity — pffff, probably not much — is offset by the What Should Be blue-sky thinking getting in the way of the What Is reality.

Regarding university football, one should can find a lot of positives with a new season in the offing. There's a small flow of Canadian-trained players to the NFL. One of the two Canadian quarterbacks holding down a CFL roster spot, the Calgary Stampeders' Andrew Buckley, played for the Calgary Dinos. That's an improvement. The calibre of play at the the top tier of the university game, especially at skill positions, is much better than it was a generation ago. More coaches receive full-time wages.

And yet . . . the game still feels beset by an unhealthy imbalance, like that guy in the gym who fails to work out all the muscle groups.

Akiem Hicks with the Regina Rams in 2011 and with the CFL's Chicago Bears in 2016, when he had seven sacks.
There are 27 football-playing universities across our country. There are also, give or take a special teams selection, 27 spots to fill when an all-star team is chosen.

A fun writing exercise — read: it's summer and there's not a lot going on — was hatched from that numerical coincidence. Pick an all-star team drawing from the past 40-some years of the university game while using only one player from each team. No loading the lines with Lavals (any number of CFL all-star linemen), or stacking the team with 'Stangs (do you pick two-time Hec Crighton Trophy winner Tim Tindale who went on to NFL glory with the Buffalo Bills or record-setting receiver Andy Fantuz, who won a receiving title in the CFL?)

Talk about a Sophie's Choice, although this does not purport to be some all-time all-star team. Leaving out defunct programs (or the departed, hey there Simon Fraser) means being unable to select a legit legend such as Tony Proudfoot, since he played at the University of New Brunswick.

Another controlled variable was confining choices to a loosely defined modern era. A hard-line historian type would say the modern era begins in 1965 with the establishment of the Vanier Cup. Or 1967, the centennial year, when the format went from an invitational to a four-team playoff, 47 years before the U.S. finally got one. As a habitual goalpost-mover, I'll slide the start of the modern era to some point around 1971, when the Old Four (Queen's, Western, McGill and University of Toronto) was phased out and the current four-conference alignment began taking shape in earnest.

Canada West has changed its playoff format to give tournament teams more rest before travelling to a Final 8. That's good. 

The RPI-offs are continuing, but with a tweak to the formula. That's bad. 

But instead of a one-game play-in for the Final 8, the semifinals will be best-of-three. That's good.

But the RPI is still in use. That's bad.
Canada West certainly had some imperative to change after UBC went splat in the quarter-finals against Manitoba and the conference subsequently went 0-6 at the women's and men's nationals.

First it was 36 years without a trip to the University Cup; now it has taken some 36 hours for Queen's men's hockey to make it to Fredericton.

(Update: while both stranded teams seem to see the humour in the situation, at this writing, 1:45 a.m. on March 16, Rte. 132 which both teams would take to New Brunswick is closed. U Sports has, according to sources, turned down Queen's appeal to postpone its game against UNB, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. AT/6 p.m. ET on Thursday. So either it will be a very road-weary Queen's team hitting the ice, or no Queen's team at all.)

Due to a major accumulation of snow throughout eastern Canada, both the 5-seed Gaels and 8-seed McGill — who each play Thursday, natch — have been hampered getting to the tournament. Queen's flight out on Tuesday was cancelled due to the weather, so a bus was arranged for the team to make the trip. Then the travelling party met with highway closures. Neither will be there in time for the all-Canadian awards dinner traditionally held on the eve of the tournament.

As if facing UNB and red-hot St. Francis Xavier was not daunting enough.

Ontario University Athletics is throwing out the RPI baby with the bathwater.

It's unofficial, of course, but an informed source has corroborated the CUSN reports from the Final 8 about another realignment being in store for basketball. What was old three years ago is new again. The conference is going back to East and West divisions with cross-over semifinals — but no single-site Final Four.

On the one hand, admitting there were unintended consequences to the 'RPI-offs' and going back to the tried-and-true is understandable. At the same time, it's not hard to read some OUA politics into a decision that would put Carleton, Ottawa and Ryerson in the same division with no mechanism for all three to be in the final four with a chance to go to nationals (as long as there's only one at-large berth, the seeding committee is probably not going to have the stones to pick a Top 5 team which was a quarter-finalist; just ask UBC. But more on that in a bit).

The switch to RPI-offs, regardless of the execution, was supposed to address that imbalance. It was also flexible since it allowed for the possibility, however theoretical, that four schools in Toronto and westward could be the class of the conference. Reverting to two divisions exhumes the inequity that occurred in both 2013 and '14, when Ryerson's men's team was a tournament-worthy team but was left out after losing to Ottawa in the East semifinal.

It is human nature to think there ought to be a way to solve something irksome without thinking of the practicalities of said way. That seems to be the subtext for the suggestion there was some great injustice with decision to award the at-large berth to Canada West bronze medallist Calgary instead of OUA bronze medallist Brock (as predicted).
The spur for doing this has always been to try to be a rational actor and give people an idea of how the Final 8 seeding rules work. Whether those rules are righteous or wrongheaded or whether the system goes too far in trying to quantify signature wins is a parallel conversation. Everyone agreed to play by these rules. You can say have play-in games, a Final 10, a Final 12, a Final 16 and say "what would the NCAA do?!" Given all the challenges U Sports faces both internally and externally, it might be better to play the pragmatist and appreciate that we still get to see eight teams spread out over nearly 6,000 kilometres still convene in Halifax for a national championship.

I say all of that, believe you me, knowing it is not for nothing the Louis CK clip open in another Chrome tab just got to the "you need to go once in a while, 'uh, I'm kind of an asshole' " part. The above paragraph probably comes off that way to a few people, but I am okay with that reaction.

The recency factor is strong with the seeding for the Bronze Baby. Carleton and Saskatchewan, the winners of the two big conferences, are seeded 1-2 whilst the automatic qualifiers from their conferences, third-seeded Queen's and fifth-seeded Regina, are not potential semifinal opponents.

By the way, whoever in the U Sports office did up the graphic might have wanted to display the teams in a way that illustrated the bracket. For a second it looked like Saskatchewan was playing Cape Breton.

A juxtaposition of the sportgeist in Canada in 2017. On Friday in Kingston, 700 people watched the men's team in our national sporting obsession play for a berth in the Canadian championship. On Saturday, there was a turn-away crowd of 1,900-plus to watch the women's basketball team at the same school. Don't worry, surely no one in a position of influence to do anything about the media coverage noticed.

Anyway, the carefully plotted brackets have been reduced to rumble like the protagonist in the second act of a Will Ferrell comedy:
The seeding is a total mess and you ought to love it.

Ryerson completed a capital double, defeating Carleton for the Wilson Cup thanks to Manny Diressa going off for 24 points in the second half and, speaking of dynamic dyads, Adam Voll and Keevon Small combining for nine blocked shots. History does not play the games in the present, of course. Ryerson with floor leaders Diressa, Adika Peter-McNeilly and Juwon Grannum will go into the Final 8 with much more shared experienced with the tournament and what's involved with being a No. 1 seed.

Meantime, Carleton will get a matinee game in the quarter-final for the fourth consecutive year, since Dalhousie is probably in the 4 vs. 5 game and the host Tigers will play in the evening session. Clearly Carleton doesn't mind the extra recovery period. The Ravens have also won the national championship the last five times (2006, '07, '11, '14 and '16) that it was not OUA playoff champion.
The task at hand isn't predictions, though, it's seeding.
Previous PostOlder Posts Home