Calculated Reactions: What's the marginal benefit?

Our Andrew Bucholtz has already covered off the four conference championship games from the weekend over at 55 Yard Line, giving them about as much virtual ink as I would, so no need for me to recap the football-playin' again here.

His headline and lede, though, both reference how, in recent years, the same teams seem to win. This is something that's been pointed out before, and it's one of a few reasons I have a hard time following CIS football.

Another one can be summed up by four numbers:

49, 19, 23, 22.

The more astute among you already know that those are the margins of victory from yesterday's and Friday's championship games. Granted, it was "only" 27-13 after three quarters of the Hardy Cup, before Calgary put up a billion points on interception returns. In fact, three of the four games were within two scores entering the fourth.

But if a game ends with one team up by 19, and that's the closest one of the weekend, it's fair to say there wasn't much drama, and frankly not much reason to watch all the way to the end.

And this problem is happening more and more lately.

In the years 2005 through 2008, the median margin of victory was 17. This is already quite high, but let's take it on faith that "normal" years mean half the regular-season and playoff games are decided by 17 or more points. (Coincidentally, 17 points is also the cutoff for two- vs. three-score games.)

In 2009 through 2011, 56% of games were decided by 17 points or more. Not a large increase by any means. 1 game in 20, really. But when you're playing 120 total, across the country ... well, it starts to get noticed.

The average margin of victory has also crept up: beginning in 2005, it was a U of T-inflated 22.4, then 19.2 and 19.1 the next two years, 21.2 in 2008, then 20.5, 21.9, and finally 21.5 this year (with three games to go).

But anyone who's spent two minutes looking at the results in this league would not be surprised to know that the average is even higher in the OUA, every single year, topping 21 all years and even reaching 25 (!) in 2008 and 2011.

Overall, Ontario games have had a margin of 23.8 points in the last four years, nearly a converted touchdown ahead of Canada West (17.0), where parity and chaos alternately reign. The other two conferences are a solid pair of rouges behind (21.4 for the AUS, 21.9 for Quebec). If you have basement-dwellers — and I mean serious basements, accessible only by mineshaft — then of course the real contenders are going to run up some ridiculous scores.

(Brief sidebar: someone asked me the other day why Waterloo even has sports teams. He was asking somewhat as a joke, because they don't get blown out of the water like this, but also semi-seriously because it's been a long time since they've won a conference championship in any major CIS sport, never mind just football. Let's just say flags better fly forever, because you probably won't see any new ones at Waterloo for a while.)

I should point out that these trends could all reverse next year, and we could enjoy an overload of one-point games every weekend. Waterloo or York (or McGill or Mount Allison) could all suddenly become competitive. But given that those four teams, over the last five years, are 22-132, a record worthy of Bart Andrus or Charlie Taaffe, I don't know how likely that is. And I don't know at which point those in charge will look at those records, and the losses of 40 (50? 70?) points, and wonder if that justifies the cost of fielding a football team.
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  1. The difference is that some teams are serious about their football programs (Laval, Western, Calgary) and others are not.

    Some teams have blips on the screen with a great recruit, but those types of classes are just not sustainable. You have some teams with 4-5 full-time coaches, some teams with 1 or 2. That makes a big difference in recruiting.

    York's coach Warren Craney is a great defensive mind and has not done anything at York. It's akin to telling a player to not play at Western or McMaster or Ottawa (or...) and play for the powerhouse that is York. Sure, maybe one or two good recruits make the jump, but more often then not, it is an uphill battle.

    Until every team makes the decision to put money into the football program (instead of taking money from it) you will continue to see these lopsided results.

    Maybe the only answer is a tiered system a la NCAA. But you have to remember, you have a bunch of lopsided results when No. 1 play No. 119. That's the Canadian equivalent of Laval-York/Waterloo.

    The difference is that when you have 13 games per week (as opposed to like 55 NCAA Div 1 games), you get a lot more games like that than close games.

  2. While I agree that the disparity between universities that genuinely try to field continuously competitive teams and those who don’t is an issue, I'm just not sure that a tiered system is the right direction to go in.

    A tiered system, at least as I imagine it would be structured, would see a cross-over at some point; the big boys against the champion of the ne're-do-well conference. That's not fair for the other teams in the first-division; their efforts, athletically and financially, undermined by the presence of a team whose university's treats the athletic program as a mere afterthought. Additionally, I’m not so sure that a second-division championship route is viable with the limited number of football playing institutions in Canada.

    Personally, I see tiered divisions as great first-step in diminishing the second-division teams’ place on their own campus. People don't want to engage if they are being asked to embrace something that is 'not quite' good enough. The CIS brand of football already has enough of a credibility issue on its own campuses and communities, it doesn't need an admittance of internal self-doubt.

    . . . but, I have been known to be wrong.