Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Basketball: Accommodating Algoma; should new northern team play in OUA East?

Were money less of an object, there would be a solution for what OUA basketball will look like once it's a sweet 16 again in 2013.

History, not geography, ought to guide how the OUA is aligned come 2013 when the Algoma Thunderbirds essentially take the spot in the league that the RMC Paladins' vacated last week. There probably is no perfect way to fit in the northern 'Birds. Instead of having a team in Kingston whose campus is jogging distance from another team in Kingston, the OUA now has a team in Sault Ste. Marie. The Soo is a four-hour drive from the nearest OUA basketball-playing school, Laurentian, and about a 10-hour drive from most OUA West schools. To Ontario people, that's a huge jaunt. (Cue Cam Charron laughing.)

At the risk of wading into "what, the renovating the restaurant you don't own part, or spending the 200 million you don't have part" territory, the solution seems fairly obvious. The Thunderbirds should play in the East division, presuming the OUA is married to its two-division, 22-game format.

The alternative is that one of the West division teams, perhaps Guelph since it's near Highway 401 and is relatively close to the GTA, shifts to the East. At the same time, the Gryphons would be giving up long-running rivalries with other Southern Ontario schools. Why should a team of several decades' standing have to sacrifice to make room for the new kids on the block? It would be the same story if the McMaster Marauders were the ones to shift to the East.

Please keep in mind the OUA West was essentially a distinct league until it began crossing over with the East in 2001-02. Up until then, the divisions only came together for the Wilson Cup. The West schools have also been more traditionally minded/reluctant to change; by and large they were later to get on board with having cross-over semifinals for the OUA Final Four. One can imagine there might be some heel-digging over who has to switch to "the Carleton division." Putting Algoma in the East might sidestep some of the politics.

There's more to this than preserving tradition. Making sure teams don't have to travel excessively should be high-priority in university sport, whose stated aim is make sure student-athletes graduate with stellar marks.

Porter Airlines services the Soo and Sudbury. It obviously flies from Ottawa and Toronto, which takes care of the six teams in eastern and southern Ontario. The point is the obvious. Algoma probably should go in the OUA East and have the same arrangement Lakehead does in the West, where it plays two-game series every weekend, starting with the first week back in January. Fly in (or out) on Friday, fly home Sunday morning or afternoon. That might be better for the players than trying to sleep on a bus and than having to study on Sunday while they're mentally run down. The OUA West schools also get the long trip out of the way in November, before winter driving conditions take hold. (In my imagination if nothing else, teams would have to do a Sudbury-Sault Ste. Marie roadie; Queen's and York make better sense as travel partners since both schools are close to the 401.)

At the very least, the OUA has a year to cost this out and see if it makes sense. If it's a no-go, then someone in the West has to the bite the bullet next season. It's just seems worth seeing if there's a cost-effective way that keeps rivalries intact and perhaps encourages a new one between Algoma and Laurentian in the near north.

3 comments:

  1. What I would find interesting is how they plan to do the Western/Windsor roadtrip. I guess they could fly to Toronto, fly to Windsor, drive to London, drive to Toronto, fly to the Soo. But if they don't want to fly, would they go through Michigan? (Saving 8-10 hours but requiring passports and border crossings and all that.)

    And yes, this is small time compared to travel faced in the West. Algoma is four hours from its nearest divisionmate, which sounds bad .. but UNBC is twice as far from TRU.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The problem with your scenario is that the OUA East doesn't play midweek conference games every week so back-to-back in Algoma will require a complete redesign of the rest of the schedule. The logical move is to pair up Algoma with Laurentian and York with Queen's. It's not perfect but it causes the least amount of disruption and both trips can be done in about 3 1/2 hours (at least it has every time I've traveled between the core of the two cities.)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Why does it require midweek games? I don't see why the OUA West schedule is any different because they play Wed./Sat. instead of Fri./Sat.

    Agreed on twinning Algoma/Laurentian, Queen's/York, Toronto/Ryerson, Carleton/Ottawa if need be ... Queen's and York are both close to a 400-series highway.

    ReplyDelete