UBC Okanagan enters Canada West, other schools shot down

Some interesting news [CanadaWest.org] came out of the Canada West annual general meeting in Victoria Thursday. The conference decided to admit UBC-Okanagan [Howard Tsumura, The Province] as a probationary member* starting in 2010, with the school's teams (the Heat) beginning conference play in men's and women's basketball and volleyball in 2011. However, the applications of Vancouver Island University and the University of Northern British Columbia didn't receive the required 75 per cent level of support, so those schools will not be heading into Canada West any time soon.

*Speaking of probationary status, the meeting also saw that tag lifted [Dan Kinvig, Abbotsford News] for the University of the Fraser Valley and Thompson Rivers University. This makes plenty of sense, as Thompson Rivers has been probationary for five years and UFV has had that designation for four years. In fact, it's a little surprising that hasn't been lifted sooner. UFV is still trying to make an impact at the CIS level, but Thompson Rivers has already found a lot of success, particularly in men's volleyball; they won bronze at the 2008 national championships, finished sixth in 2009 and did a great job of hosting the championships this year, where they also finished sixth.

The addition of UBC-O isn't quite a done deal, though. As that release points out, UBC-O's Canada West status is conditional upon CIS approval. That won't be discussed until the CIS annual general meeting in 2011. It seems unlikely that this would be shot down at that stage, though, considering that UBC-O will likely already be gearing up for CIS competition by that time, and there isn't really a compelling reason for universities from the rest of Canada to tell Canada West who would or wouldn't be a good member of their conference.

If there ever was going to be a case where other institutions might have concerns about a new member, this could be one, though. As I pointed out in my 2008 piece looking at the Canada West expansion candidates, UBC Okanagan is a rather unique school; it's essentially a regular college or small university that became a satellite campus of UBC in 2004 via "hostile takeover". UBC-O has a separate senate than UBC, but both share a common board of governors. That could lead to concerns about their athletic independence along the lines of the ones various people have raised around David Braley's involvement with [Sporting Madness] (and current ownership of [CBC.ca]) two CFL franchises, the Toronto Argonauts and the B.C. Lions.

As in the CFL case, there probably isn't too much to be worried about here. Common ownership does not equal collaboration between teams, especially because both CFL owners and university boards of governors usually don't have too much to do with on-field issues. The perception of a conflict of interest could be damaging, though, especially from a boardroom perspective; some might see this as giving UBC two voices and votes at the CIS table.

The other thing that could make this interesting is the ongoing debate at UBC around the NCAA. If the main campus athletics department decides to follow SFU south, that would leave the overall institution with one team in CIS and one in the NCAA. That might leave a bad taste in the mouths of some CIS schools, given the emotions that the NCAA debate has stirred up. It also could be seen as UBC trying to have its cake and eat it too, which might alienate some people.

On the other hand, there are many things to recommend UBC-Okanagan; they give Canada West a larger presence in the B.C. Interior, they already have a strong athletics tradition at the college level, and they'll have a great rivalry with Thompson Rivers University over in Kamloops. They also have the potential to perhaps eventually play football, possibly via an affiliation with the local junior team, the Okanagan Sun. Furthermore, the Kelowna area has almost 200,000 people, which is a pretty nice addition for CIS.

It is somewhat surprising to me that the other schools didn't make the cut, though. As I laid out in the 2008 piece, UNBC's bid looked like the most attractive one thanks to its long history at the university level, Prince George's existing support for university sports (the UNBC Cougars were regularly drawing 700 fans for women's basketball and 1,000 for men's back in 2008, way better than many CIS schools) and the advantages of a CIS presence in Northern B.C. However, they were probably hurt by their bid focusing on just two teams (men's and women's basketball) and by their geographic isolation, which would have resulted in significant travel costs. VIU, like UBC-O, applied for full membership, but they're a relatively recent university and may have faced some funding challenges. They would have given UVic a natural travel partner though, and expanded the CIS presence on Vancouver Island. All three bids had their own collections of strengths and weaknesses, so it is somewhat surprising to see UBC-O make the cut and the others be rejected.
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  1. UBC proper getting more ammo for making a move. They really don't want to be tied to a province only league, which continues to be the way the CW is expanding. Notice all schools that have been added or applied are from BC? That is no coincidence when it comes to UBC's desire to get out. Just wait until all the Alberta schools and lower mainland BC schools start looking at application. Maybe if these programs had more than four teams prior to application, there would be less sense of impending doom.

  2. time to start tiering!!
    the Pres of UBC has been gathering alot of momentum and support of other big school presidents and ADs acrosss the west and the CIS landscape, he wants something done about the immigration of the tech schools and the small colleges/university that are being accepted! he wants to restructure the CIS first, and then wants the div 1 div2 model asap or they are gone!

  3. What other schools, besides UBC are in favour of a two tier system?
    And who is considered tier two material?
    I wouldn't think Fraser Valley, TRU and UBC-O joined CW
    only to be slotted as second tier.

  4. UBC-O will apply again. Very likely VIU will. There are multiple (at least five) additional potential CIS applicants from Alberta and BC on the horizon.

    One answer may not be tiering per se. It may well be two separate conferences, whether divided by geography, size of institution, number of teams...whatever.

    There has already been behind the scenes discussions of Canada West programs that offer a wide array of CIS sports pulling out and forming their own conference.

  5. Duh! Make that UNBC will apply again...

  6. The tiering debate is an interesting one. If Canada West needs to be split, though, I like the last anonymous poster's idea of two separate conferences better, especially if done by geography. Obviously, not all schools are the same size or able to fund the same level of programs, but smaller schools can have an impact if they focus on certain sports; look what Thompson Rivers has done in men's volleyball, or what Trinity Western's done with soccer and volleyball. I have no problem with letting in the smaller schools if they're committed to success in the sports they choose to compete in (which is why I was a little disappointed UNBC didn't make it, as their plan seemed the most likely to produce strong teams right out of the gate).

  7. Thanks for the shoutout Andrew.

    Football and hockey provide a stumbling block to two geographic conferences. There are a limited amount of teams and they'd perhaps all want to stay in the same conference. To me, that could well help produce a big/little (or whatever politically correct term you'd like to use) conference split.

  8. If UBC wants to follow SFU to NCAA DII I know many folks wish them well in their future endeavours.

    However, if they can get more "big" schools to follow them that is problematic.

    My guess is the UBC president/AD may be gathering support from big schools across the west for tiering. However, I very much doubt support will be there in signifant numbers once you cross the Ontario border. Thus, I could see a big school conference in the west. I don't see tiering though.

  9. The idea of splitting up schools by no. of sports of offered if hard to banish .... so have a conference of schools that would play basketball, volleyball and soccer and one for those larger institutions offering football and/or hockey?

  10. UBCO will be competitive right out of the gate in both Men's and Women's Volleyball - women have won the CCAA Championship this year, not losing a game all season and beating some CIS teams in the process. The Men's team also competed against a number of CIS teams with positive results and have medalled at the CCAA Championships in the last few years. Basketball will have a tougher time because of the strength of CW basketball on both the men's and women's sides - I would expect to see a coaching change on the women's basketball side to someone a little younger and more current.

  11. A tiering system is very high school - not exactly forward thinking by the UBC AD and not the way to grow CIS sports in this country.

  12. UVic doesn't offer football, hockey or volleyball. A glaring example CIS tiering, or even breaking Canada West into two conferences along "size" criteria, is a tricky proposition indeed.

    It's pretty obvious one way UBC believes they could encourage tiering, or a big/little conference split, is to have CIS increase scholarship limts. But, frankly, that probably would not deter many "smaller" schools in specific sports from bucking-up.

    One thing is for sure. UBC's DII options aren't exactly Stanford from an athletic or education standpoints! Just check out the schools SFU is competing with. By themselves UBC are not playing a strong hand. And make no mistake, UBC are the institution pushing hardest for change. They see little in common with many current Canada West members - and even less with potential members.

    I just wish UBC had got into NCAA DI. I think it would have been positive all-round.

  13. Fact: Other CW "big schools" (football) are keen on forming their own super conference, presumably based on UBC staying in the picture. The six football schools in addition to 2-3 other schools would be the potential group.

    Fact: UBC wants to go NCAA Division I and if they need to spend 5-10 years in DII they will. That time would also be a good learning period with all the new regs and get coaches up to speed on recruiting.

    Fact: Schools that athletic departments consists of 2-4 CIS level teams don't get a lot of say in how a conference should do their business. Schools like Victoria, TWU, and Lethbirdge are the fringe big schools but TRU, UFV, UBCO, Brandon, and Winnipeg don't have a lot of pull or influence.

    Fact: UBC is definitely pushing the hardest for change but make no mistake, other schools want things to get more "sport" centric and/if when UBC leaves, it will cause big issues for CW. In their best interest to have UBC stay. Imagine two major universities in Vancouver and neither play in CIS - that's an embarrassment for the league.

  14. Let's see what happens if a school like Manitoba tries to move to a "super conference" and leave Winnipeg and Brandon to fend for themselves. Do you really believe the Winnipeg and Brandon ADs (and more importantly presidents) would not raise one hell of rucus with the provincial government? It would be ugly with a capital U!

    It's the BC and Alberta provincial governments who have started this whole situation by granting university status to more-and-more schools. It's schools from those provinces that need to clean up their own mess without screwing schools like Winnipeg and Brandon.

    BTW - If UBC really wants to go DI and will ultimately do it regardless of whatever the CIS does why should the CIS/Canada West give a rat's ass about their opinion right now?

  15. here is thought Robyn Buna does her fifth year at OUBC , nice start for a new program

  16. If enough changes in CIS/CW, UBC's president won't let them leave for a life in NCAA - that is why CW/CIS should care. If CIS/CW call UBC's bluff, and don't make significant changes, could be a devastating loss for Canadian university sport.

    Winnipeg and their four teams, none of which are good right now, can raise all the hell they want but the Wesmen are not a true athletic department. They do have 20 CIS titles which is a nice number for four teams but only one since the mid 1990s. A non-factor in the current CW landscape.

    In addition, I don't think the AD/President from such schools will have much pull. Rumour is only the schools moving to the mega-conference need approval as in theory they could start their own conference rather than remain under banner of CW.

  17. First of all the mega-conference idea went down this winter. No one would even formally propose it. It could be resurected. We'll see.

    As for as presidents from smaller schools not having much pull I suggest you research just who Lloyd Axworthy is. I imagine he has plenty of pull at various high levels.

    Bob Phillip had a DI dream (which a applaud.) It didn't happen. Now UBC is just trying to use as much leverage as possible to have changes made in Canada West/CIS. Thing is they really don't have significant leverage. Essentially they have no hope at the CIS level. The post-secondary athletic layout is very different once you go east of Alberta. They have no leverage in Canada West unless they can get every Canada West football and hockey playing school to play along. (And UVic plays neither btw.) Manitoba is one of those schools. If Winnipeg and Brandon want to make it impossible for Manitoba to abandon them through complaining to their provincial government, I think they have a real shot of getting that done.

    Perhaps UBC would have more leverage if their football and hockey teams actually won something occasionally. Even men's basketball can't quite seem to get the national title... Amazing considering the relative resources at hand. (Kudos to Phillip and company for providing them.)

  18. Continued expansion of the CW Pacific division
    by admitting college or college/university teams
    will drastically water down the competitive level.
    We have seen evidence it already has.

  19. Former University Coach5/13/2010 2:24 pm

    Firstly, there is a ban on teams applying for div 1 til 2012. It is highly unlikely that the NCAA would allow UBC to make that jump without being Div 2 first. Though, there is precident for it , just look at Utah Valley University (formerly Utah Valley State College) they were a powerhouse NJCAA team and were accepted as a junior college to Div 1. Though this process has taken a long time I believe they first got probationary status in fall 03 and are just now last year a full Div 1 program. So if UBC wants to go I think its a good time for them. As far as UBCzero, I think they pose a lot of problems for TRU. The schools arent that far apart, Kelowna is much nicer then Kamloops, they have UBC backing and as far as basketball goes, in the past 5 years, they already get better recruits then TRU. TRU as far as basketball goes is now completely lost. They still don't have a coach (May 13) they've lost their 3 best players to graduation and of the guys returning they only average 36.2 ppg for 9 guys of which 16.8 come from Greg Stewart. As far as UNBC goes, They won a national championship last year in the CCAA in men's bball, mostly due to a coach who is no longer there. That's great, well they have never won anythingelse. It takes a proven track record of winning to even have a shot at being competitive in the CanWest, just look at TRU win a national championship their last year CCAA go CIS and whats happened since. UFV won of the most dominant CCAA teams for years go CIS and are having moderate success. UNBC IMO would follow the path of TRU. Plus they only want to go in one sport, the location is terrible, they havent had an AD in a year, havent had a athletic support staff (assistant AD) in like 2 years, they dont have the money to travel all over western Canada and they don't have a coach. All these things don't add up to being a CIS program. They have a great facility, similar to a UW or UM or Lethbridge or pretty much most CanWest schools outside of BC. But a facility doesnt make you a CIS school when your biggest accomplishment is winning 1 CCAA title in probably the worst year for the BCCAA that I can ever remember. As for VIU,m i'm not entirely sure the athletics department actually wanted to go CIS. Finally, for the tiering system.... Huge problems/challenges. If you read through the notes on the Canwest website from the minutes from last years meetings, they wated to do a pilot program (unbc, Viu, tru, ubco, ufv are tier 2, UBC, TWU, UVic tier 1)Take a school like UFV for example they finished ahead of UVIC and TWU (and in the near future I believe could be one of the top CanWest bball schools) How are you going to tier them into the lower pool? They finished above TWU 3 of the last 4 years. I think if they did it with a relegation it would be interesting, lowest from year before goes down, highest moves up???

  20. With UBCO entering Canada West in a couple of years, does that mean that players from other universities have the option of transfering over to them as a college team without having to sit out a year? Might sound pretty tempting to a few quality athletes. I look forward to seeing how well they do.