This is a guest post from former Ubyssey sports editor Ian Turner on his ideas for improving CIS men’s basketball. The ideas expressed here are his own and are not necessarily endorsed by The CIS Blog, but they should stimulate some discussion. You can read more of Ian’s work here and contact him at ianturner88 @ gmail. – Andrew
On February 22, UBC won its first playoff match of the 2010-2011 season 106-75 against the Manitoba Bisons. The following night, UBC won 103-85, taking the best-of-three series and advancing to the next round, the Canada West final four.
The two games were uneventful - the likely outcome was known to both teams before the series started. Did below-.500 Manitoba really think they would upset Canada’s second-ranked team, UBC? Unfortunately, such blowout contests are also the norm for the men’s team throughout the regular season.
So what if we rearranged the Canadian collegiate basketball scene?
Say we created a 13-team Canada-wide tier 1 superleague by plucking the best from Canada’s four current athletic conferences: Atlantic University Sport, Canada West, Ontario University Athletics, and Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec. Four teams from the West. Five from Ontario: two from both the East and West divisions, with the fifth team being the winner of a one-game series between the two divisions’ third-placed teams. Two from the Maritimes, one from Québec, and a wild-card selection process for the 13th lucky member.
(Québec would be the only league unable to expand its superleague presence beyond one team. Today, Québec has five teams. If one were to join the Super 13, that would leave four to play in the remaining league, which is the absolute bare minimum needed to have a conference.)
With 13 teams, the superleague squads would play the same number of regular season games that UBC’s men did this year, if they played each team twice.
At the regular season’s end, the Super 13’s top four teams would play a two day tournament to determine Canada’s national champion.
Currently, a Canada West team’s route to the national championship game is a three-week ordeal with three layers: an opening best of three series, the Canada West final four, and the national final four. In my proposed structure, the national championship would occur two weeks earlier, a plus for academics.
(But it’s naive to think those two weeks would be spent wisely preparing for finals and
completing coursework. Two years ago, I had a East Central European History class with a UBC men’s player. After his return from nationals, I comically in retrospect said that he must appreciate the newfound time to study; He smiled and said he’d be skipping the next class to golf.)
Each year, the Super 13’s last two ranked teams in the standings would be demoted back to the second tier, which would be comprised of the four currently existing conferences. The top ranked team(s) in the conference(s), which must now welcome back the departed teams, would play in the Super 13 the following year.
(I chose two teams rather than one, since then teams in all the tier II conferences are more likely each year to have a chance to move up. If only one were demoted, you may have a five year stretch where only one conference is rotating squads in and out of tier 1, which would be most demoralizing to teams in the other tier II conferences who are their league’s leaders. If more than two teams were demoted annually, the Super 13’s perennial bottom half would be unable to build towards the future because they would be perpetually negatively impacted in the field of recruiting, for instance, by switching conferences year in, year out.)
To keep it all simple, for determining the inaugural season’s teams, I’d take the previous year’s eight teams who made it to the Canada-wide finals as eight of the superleague’s 13 founding members - two from the Atlantic, Canada West, and Ontario conferences and one from Québec, with the eighth spot going to a wild card team selected by a committee of Canadian collegiate coaches. The last five spots would go to conferences whose Super 13 quota has not yet been met. Those spots would be filled based on the previous year’s conferences’ finals’ results.
If the Super 13 were created, the games would be tighter. The frequent blowouts Canada’s basketball powerhouses play would come to an end. The crowds would hopefully increase as the level of play would be significantly improved. Maybe even a Canadian television broadcaster would air regular season collegiate basketball.
So what’s holding the dream back?
Well, several factors: travel costs for Canada’s three eastern-most conferences, and the
increased time commitment; the current CIS’s alleged cozy voting structure; recruiting and budget costs; and a concern that the league’s travel schedule would be too professional.
One, travel costs and time. Canada West is unique in that its teams fly to most regular season games, particularly if they’re not BC-based teams. For western-based teams, flying across an additional province wouldn’t be a great extra burden with regard to money, but that’s not the case for teams in Canada’s other three conferences. They generally bus to their games, and if they played in the superleague, their travel budgets would increase exorbitantly. At a time of great fiscal pressures on all Canadian universities, entering a league where buying round-trip plane tickets to at least three away games, if you’re an Ontario or Quebec school, is a must for the 15 odd players, coaches, and physiotherapists would be unwise economically-speaking and very poor public relations.
And all teams would be negatively impacted by the demanding, time-zone hopping travel
schedule. For example, UBC flying out to the “far east” would create some hassles: if they were to play in the Maritimes, they would lose a day on either side of the games to travel. Today, when they play against Alberta, for example, they just hop on a 4 or 6 o’clock evening flight the evening before. If they were to fly to Halifax, they’d have to leave Vancouver by 9 a.m. at the latest to get in at a reasonable hour on the east coast the night before the game.
If I were the commissioner, the newly minted league would have a policy that stipulates teams’ annual two regular season matchups happen on the same weekend to reduce travel time and weekday preparations, an idea former UBC women’s point guard Arianne Duchesne proposed when I ran my idea by her. This is similar to what Canada West did this past season, and it would ease the Super 13’s pressure on the players’academic endeavours and reduce flight costs, since teams wouldn’t need to fly to a different city for their Saturday night matchup. Overall, travel time would be greater, but not necessarily by a lot.
As a case in point, consider UBC. If their schedule alternated between home and away for the two superleague’s Atlantic teams, this would mean losing one Thursday every year that they currently don’t lose to travel, because they’d be crisscrossing the country on those days. They’d have to travel three times a year to Ontario and/or Québec, with three Ontario or two Ontario and a Québec team visiting them. In total, they’d lose on average four additional days to traveling, during the regular season, or two per term. This idealized scheduling also hinges on the 13th member being a Canada West team. All but the last sentence is achievable annually.
Two, the alleged cozy relations. In a presentation to Senate last month, UBC Vice-President Brian Sullivan noted that Eastern schools, particularly Ontario’s, have a cozy bond amongst themselves, often voting en mass together. UBC has been unable to crack this bloc, he said, but the west’s smaller universities have also sided in the past with Ontario. I’m not writing that Sullivan believes there’s a “dark” anti-UBC alliance out there. Rather, the former Harvard varsity rower, who can be spotted occasionally at athletic competitions, probably wants a stronger athletic and school spirit at UBC, and the CIS’s dabbling and general satisfaction with the status quo probably doesn’t sit well with him. The superleague concept has been proposed before but has never been formally discussed at a CIS annual general meeting.
Three, the superleague’s jet-setting players would be easy bait for those saying Canada is entering the realm of American-style collegiate sport leagues that are closer to professional athletics in some respects.Is that true?
Not really. Currently, the teams fly home generally on a Sunday morning or afternoon, and they arrive home in the early afternoon. In the superleague, their four or five annual cross-country Thursday flights (depending on where the 13th member is located), would count as days currently not lost. Their Sunday return flights would see them arrive likely no later than they currently do. That means they’ll lose four to five days more per regular season than they already do, but my championship structure is much more slimmed down than the current three-week one, and it would see the league’s playoffs finish two weeks earlier than they currently do. That’s two full weeks less of weekday training, video sessions, weekends lost, and time spent focusing on the league. Adding all the days up, the current structure sees about 11-13 days lost to travel, whereas the Super 13 would see 10-12 days lost to travel - with two weeks axed from the entire season.
Four, budget planning and recruiting. This is the largest hurdle, and a point that Duchesne made.
Say you’re the University of Toronto’s athletic director. One year, you’re one of the
superleague’s last two teams in the points category so you get the boot back to the inferior Eastern Ontario basketball division. Well, that creates some serious planning issues: your basketball budget will probably, be significantly smaller next year, but the recruiting class your coaching staff tirelessly worked to recruit is in jeopardy as they will try to find spots on next year’s Super 13 teams.
You have the exact opposite problem if you enter the nation-wide league. Your budget, unless you’re a Canada West team, will increase by multiple factors, which leaves you scrounging around for pennies to finances your basketball team’s superleague membership, while your coaching staff’s phone lines will be clogged with rookies phoning in, asking if there’s an available spot on next year’s bench.
One way to negate the financial problem would be to have all teams, regardless of their league, to pay a fee that would finance superleague travel costs. Most likely, however, schools who know they’ll never play in the superleague (perennial cellar-dwellers RMC come to mind) would vote against financing others’ Super 13’s involvement.
There aren’t any particularly easy ways to handle the money issues involved, but it’s possible that revenues would increase as well as costs. More attractive regular-season matchups could bring in a larger gate for each school, and there might even be broadcast revenues down the road if the league gains enough prominence. However, the significant start-up costs without a guaranteed corresponding increase in revenue might keep this league from going beyond the realm of fantasy.