Basketball: OUA title drought might stem from outdated high school system

Having the women's basketball Final 8 in Ontario when an OUA team has never, ever won* lends itself to asking, "Why?"
"As coach, (Christine) Stapleton guided the Regina Cougars to a CIS championship in 2000-01. She also worked as the University of Regina's assistant to the Athletic Director from 1994-98.

" 'Ontario has lots of athletes to go after, but there's also a lot of schools in this province. There's certainly that competitiveness to try to get the collection of athletes at one school.

" 'A lot of the kids are going south. When I was playing, the top Ontario athletes were staying in Canada. I don't think that's the case any more.'

"Western schools, unlike Ontario, also pay for a student athlete's entire tuition fee.

"At this weekend's eight-team tournament at the Burridge Gym, the Simon Fraser Clan will be shooting for their second straight CIS title and fifth in the last nine years. Head coach Bruce Langford has led Simon Fraser to nine straight appearances at nationals."

" 'A lot has to be said about the coaching," Stapleton said. 'Obviously, they're doing a great job. The coaches at SFU, UBC and Victoria must be working hard at what they do. And there's the quality of athletes they've been able to attract and retain.' "
Andrew Bucholtz already hit it out of the park with how scholarships have changed CIS. Some women ballers are staying in Canada. Just today, Western announced Mustangs coach Steph Barrie got a commitment from junior national team player Laura Dally, a 6-foot guard from Sarnia Northern.

There is another reason West is best, beyond the scholarships. They play FIBA rules!

The high school systems are, by and large, is way ahead of Ontario. The latter still persists in having girls basketball in the fall, on top of also playing a 32-minute game with no shot clock since schools are loath to pay to install them and perhaps some coaches don't want to give up what they know. At least one of those Ontario quirks has hurt overall development, notwithstanding the individual talent in the province such as Natalie Achonwa and Kayla Alexander, among others.

Off-hand, every other province plays FIBA. Every province and U.S. state has come around to the crazy notion girls and women deserve to play when it's basketball season, just like the guys.

It's important to keep the FIBA and fall-season arguments separate. There are justifications for the latter (time management with coaches, officials), but you need to go to the grassroots if the results aren't there. There might be some cause-and-effect between Ontario's anachronistic high school system and the lack of a Bronze Baby-winning team from the province dating back to the Laurentian Lady Vees in 1991.

Two more all-things-considered. One, OUA is close to a breakthrough, with coach Chantal Vallée's Windsor Lancers seeded No. 2 this weekend in Hamilton. The Lancers are a bit of an outlier, though, but their roster that reflects the need for a local base (almost all of their eight Ontarians from the 519/905 region), national recruiting (guards Shavaun Reaney and Emily Abbott are Albertans) and some post presence imported from overseas (6-foot-3 Frenchwoman Jessica Clémençon and 6-5 Iva Peklova, a Czech). Other coaches, including Barrie at Western, Ottawa's Andy Sparks and Carleton's Taffe Charles, are doing wonders with their programs.

Secondly, the designated wild card for the conference which produced the previous season's champion makes Canada West's dominance more self-perpetuating. There's more reason for a CW school to apply to host, since a berth is harder to come by.

That means half the Final 8 field often comes from Canada West. That has helped keep that streak going. Imagine the reaction if the OUA had been assured an extra berth at every men's championship dating back to 2004, due to the success of Brock and Carleton.

OUA women's basketball should have a day in the sun, soon, especially with Simon Fraser out of the picture. That's no reason not to address some of the anomalies.

Meantime, Western not only got a commitment from a junior national team player, but two forwards who played on provincial teams, Lacey Knox of Kingston and Lauren Seabrook from B.C., whose sister Julie plays D-1.

(* Back in '90-91, it was the OWIAA. Hence the technicality.)

West best since 1991; Ontario drought blamed on too many schools, scholarships (Larry Moko, Hamilton Spectator)
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  1. I don't see how lack of FIBA rules and the large number of schools in Ontario can somehow handicap OUA female teams but not OUA mens teams. The earlier (and shorter) season might have some effect but certainly not a significant enough one to explain almost two decades of Canada West dominance.

  2. I think high school basketball in Ontario should adopt the FIBA rules. Ontario Basketball requires FIBA rules to be used, including the 24 second shot clock at the high school level (shot clock not mandatory at levels below Grade 9, but will be phased in). You can see some referees being confused by the dual set of rules. I continue to see the odd high school game in Ontario where coaches stall for 2-3 minutes. At the very least a shot clock (24 or 35) should be added to NFHS rules if they don't change to FIBA. I'm not sure I can argue that FIBA produces better basketball players but I think there's a need for consistency that will allow players to know the rules - soon we'll have players who play club basketball moving into high school rules after 4-5 years of FIBA rules and scratching their heads with the change in rules. I think the OABO (referees) should step in to the discussion to make it move forward.

  3. It's all inter-related, Jason. It doesn't have so much effect on the men's side since Ontario has a deep talent pool and it is tougher for a male to get a D1 scholarship than it is for a female (it would be great to know the numbers, but as a percentage of the whole there might be more Canadian representation in D1 women's than D1 men's).

    The OUA has done well retaining players who might have done OK at a mid-major, such as Clinton Springer-Williams, Warren Ward, Josh Gibson-Bascombe.

    It's also had a huge outlier with the program Dave Smart has built at Carleton.

    There's a chance I might be arguing a moot point. High school sports get the media attention and are most recognized by the general population, but the real development comes through the club system, along with playing on regional and provincial all-star teams.

    It is just striking that Ontario is anomalous in not having playing FIBA and having women's basketball in the fall, and coincidentally has not had a Bronze Baby winner in almost 20 years. Perhaps Windsor changes that this weekend.

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  5. I think there's a lot of merit to the argument that a higher percentage of top female players go down south than male, at least outside of the GTA where women's high school ball is strongest.

    I don't think the FIBA rules play much of a role because the adjustment does not have to take place right away for the first year players since most get little playing time compared to the older players who become used to the system. Besides, most of them are used to FIBA rules through their club teams.

    With the importance of club ball, as you mentioned, the effect of a Fall season might be moot. In fact, it could be argued that girls benefit by having their two seasons back to back instead of overlapping like the boys

  6. Quite possible. One does wonder if the slowdown game in Ontario turns off athletes who are 15, 16 years old and facing a choice of focusing between basketball, soccer and volleyball, among others. With the way high school basketball is with a 32-minute game and no shot clock, you only need about 4-5 bona fide players and everyone else is just filling space. Compare that to the opportunities to develop in soccer or even volleyball.

    Again, it's no one big reason, it's a dozen little ones. There's some good development in Ontario, but it's somewhat uneven.

  7. Bottom line is that more Ontario women leave for the NCAA than other regions, and the ones who stay are spread out among more teams. If you look at the Canada Games results, Ontario has won more gold medals in boys and girls play than any other province. The Western teams retain more of their elite players and they can congregate on fewer teams. When you consider that Ontario loses players to the West and the AUS doesn't help. Windsor may have the right idea by recruiting international players to compensate.

  8. More Eastern Seaboard D-1 Schools as opposed to out West, Players that should probably stay in the CIS often go to Nowhere state D-1 in the East. Whereas, out West fewer D-1 schools recruiting Elite Talent. I do agree however that the archaic rules of OFSAA do not help the overall development of players (especially offensively in women's- Mid range game).