A buzzsaw named Deezar came through B.C. last weekend, but that was not enough to change voters' minds for the first football Top 10 of the season.

Voters in the poll have free reign to decide how much stock to give to exhibition results, such as Manitoba's 50-7 win against defending national champion UBC last Friday at Westhills Stadium on Vancouver. Those games aren't played at full intensity, and the road team is often coming with a lean travel squad whereas the hosts will carry extra players.

The first poll of the season is always as the hardest; an invisible hand -- thank you, Adam Smith -- tends to help a consensus develop. Six teams got at least one No. 1 vote, and there seems to be strong consensus around eight teams. That's really all that should be ranked, but for marketing purposes, you need 10 teams. A novel total would break the haters' brains.
You must be new here if you find it odd that an idea to revitalize the football regular season sprang from the region of the country with the most travel for football, and the conference with the least hard-passed on even considering it.

Even though there was a patron of the gridiron arts -- U of Saskatchewan alumnus L. David Dubé -- willing to fund the Northern 8 (see PDF) interlock. Even though Canadian Interuniversity Sport, not too long ago, convened a football task force who found that nearly 90 per cent of the football-playing schools favour it. Last and hardly least, it went by the wayside even though meaningful interlock would not conflict with CIS' long-term goal of having a football Final 8, and could actually help facilitate a seeding system and greater familiarity between opponents.

Ontario University Athletics, with 11 teams playing an eight-game regular season, was loath to have even more non-combatants. There was also a conflict presented by the fact CIS' TV deal is with Sportsnet, which has ruled out airing conference games after the start of the NHL season.

None of those create an argument to dismiss the idea out of hand. There is no reason to punt on a good idea that was been developed and advanced by Krown Countdown U producer Jim Mullin. As proposals go, it was highly cogent, especially with the equity that Dubé was committed to pouring into broadcast production for interlock games between Top 10 teams.

Also, nothing has happened in the past 18 months to show the 'aspirational' model is not needed. The status quo argument that blowouts are inevitably going to happen is superseded by the old saying about the definition of insanity.

In 2015, 19 of 44 OUA regular-season games -- 43.2 per cent -- had margins of 30 or more points. Another 10 (22.7%) had a final spread in the 20-29 range. About two-thirds of the games were uncompetitive.

Counting interlocks with AUS, the blowout rate in Quebec was 38.5%, 10 games out of 26. Only another three, 11.5%, had spreads in the 20.

To quote Elaine Benes, "It's 3:30 a.m., I'm at a cockfight; what am I clinging to?"

Something needs to change. It probably starts with getting rid of the albatross that is the Sportsnet contract, which runs until 2019. With the state of the broadcast industry, it's also tough to predict what the marketplace will be by the time CIS becomes a media free agent. That, however, does not mean the hands are tied when it comes to offering something new to a potential broadcast partner. Especially when a partner is offering to pay the freight. With five feeds, does TSN really want to fill them with U.S. games that offer limited rooting interest in Canada?

Eight reasons for a Northern 8:

  1.  Media exposure.
  2. See number 1. Media exposure.
    Actually, OUA needs a reminder about the price of being regressive. The conference has long been the anti-progressive at the table. It was the holdout on athlete financial awards, and that was what led to a 10-year absence from the Vanier Cup that spanned the '90s and early aughts.

    Three Vanier wins and six appearances across the last 11 seasons is decent for OUA. It's not that great, though, considering the population of Ontario and the fact another conference is a non-factor nationally.
  3. A season-long lead-in to the final four and Vanier Cup. A TV property cannot be made on three games a year.
  4. The national 'my conference can beat your conference' conversation already takes place on social media every week.
  5. Coaching staffs would have a better idea of how a national semifinal opponent compares with the teams in their conference. It's one thing to watch a team on film. It's another to watch film of team who is playing a team you know first-hand.

    Would that guarantee better Uteck and Mitchell games? Not necessarily, but only four national semifinals in the last 10 years could reasonably be called gripping games. (Saskatchewan-Ottawa in 2006, Queen's-Laval in '09, Laval-Western in '10 and Montreal-Manitoba in '14.)
  6. A wider out-of-province recruiting footprint for the teams trying to keep up with the powerhouses. Carleton and Ottawa need to play in Quebec. Bishop's, Concordia and McGill, along with AUS, could stand to come to Ontario.

    Somehow schools have money for multiple plane trips by hockey teams, whose travelling parties are about one-third the size but bring in, what, one-20th of the revenue and exposure?
  7. Results to help seed a Final 8, if that ever becomes a thing.
  8.  An enhanced student-athlete experience. It is really fair that some five-year players never play a meaningful game against someone other than the same 5-10 opponents? The other side of the coin is the teams in OUA's unofficial third tier could get a benefit in attendance if they had home-and-homes, like they do in the other three conferences.

This could be stuck in limbo until the new leadership under CEO Graham Brown find a better fit for their media rights. The catch-22 (or 24) is undeniable: it can find a partner for football, but there's reluctance about cutting basketball and hockey loose. That will not be easy.

That said, there is a great idea out there for football, and it cannot be that hard to listen.
Who is going to be good in OUA? Probably the same teams that were good last season, and the season before, and most of the seasons stretching back two decades. Who will struggle? Paste in the second sentence of this paragraph and a do a find/replace with "were good" and "struggled."

Let's be real; of course every player and coach on all 11 teams has worked hard since January and is sweating through the two-a-days while internalizing all the schemes and concepts and pre-snap adjustments. Overall, though, football is the game where success is most tied to support from the top down, and it is hard to play it straight when there are so many underlying factors for why OUA is a three-, or four-, or five-tiered league.

Someone has to speak truth to power and tell the bankrollers, your Stu Langs and David Sidoos and David Braleys and Jacques Tanguays, that their enthusiasm is great, but the growth needs to be more level across the full 11, and the full 27. Three teams went winless in 2015. David Dubé is the best example of a patron of the sweaty arts, since the Saskatchewan Huskies alumnus has invested in getting Canada West back on broadcast TV and in trying to get interlock play off the ground, even if OUA didn't want to hear out anyone on the latter.

That probably comes across negatively, but CIS needs everyone pulling on the same rope. Hence the pet idea of a not-for-profit collective to improve competitive standards across Canada. Will never happen, of course.

There are more talented football players than there has ever been in CIS. There is better coaching. There are more people employed full-time as coaches than there has ever been. Yet it is undeniable that the growth has not been even. Roughly one-third of games across the country are perfunctory and predictable, and that is holding the sport back at the amateur level, and keeping it from getting the audience it deserves.

Well, that and the toothless CRTC deciding Canadian sports networks are not obligated to show truly Canadian competition. At least three games are getting on City TV this fall, starting with the Western-Queen's inaugural game at new Richardson Stadium on Sept. 17.

Penny Oleksiak has had an unprecedented medal performance at age 16, which lends itself to wondering what will come next for the Canadian swimming wunderkind.

in There seems to be a need for a short explainer about the differences vis-à-vis swimming in the NCAA and swimming in CIS, which incidentally has accounted for the four Canadian swimming medals in Rio apart from Oleksiak's two individual medals, the gold in 100 free and silver in the 100 fly. The CBC.ca mentioned how "if the high-schooler decides to delay turning pro to attend college in the U.S., NCAA rules prohibit earning money from sport," while TSN got their informed opinion on university swimming from a Southern California-based agent who declared, "swimming CIS [Canadian Interuniversity Sport] is not the answer."

Well, at least he knew not to say "the CIS." The reporter might have wanted to mention, if not ask them about CIS, that Kylie Masse, who grabbed a bronze in 100-metre backstroke, swims for the University of Toronto. Hilary Caldwell, who also earned a backstroke bronze, is a Victoria Vikes alumna. Relay medallists Sandrine Mainville and Katerine Savard came up with the Montreal Carabins, Emily Overholt is an incoming frosh at UBC, and distance man Ryan Cochrane also swam at UVic.

Overall, seven of the nation's last nine swim medals have involved a CIS athlete, counting Cochrane's 2008 and '12 medals in 1,500 freestyle and the bronze that Brent Hayden (UBC grad) earned in London. That is a small sample, and there's a lot of benefit in going to the NCAA, too.

Fortunately for CIS, and for the sake of increasing understanding of a sport that people generally drop in on every four years (present company included), The Globe & Mail gave some play to the notion that the NCAA is not the be-all end-all.

From Susan Krashinsky:

As a carded athlete (the carding system that is managed by national sport organizations provides top contenders with financial support while training), [Oleksiak] could have some of her schooling paid for if she stayed home.

“The calibre of facility, support, sports science that we have at our training centres … is beyond any NCAA option,” said Chris Wilson, director of marketing at Swimming Canada. “That wasn’t the case 10 years ago.” (Report on Business, Aug. 12)

Granted, there some spin there, but it's backed up by the results and the tight relationship between Swimming Canada and CIS. The former has four centralized training bases - the Intensive Training Program - Montreal, and High Performance Centres in Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria. The three HPCs are all on-campus at (you guessed it) U of T, UBC and UVic.

One can see the mutual benefit to the universities and the Olympic program. Another key difference is CIS uses the Olympic long-course 50-metre pool. The NCAA, bless American isolationism, uses a 25-yard pool. The expression about that is it's not NCAA swimming, it's NCAA turning.

It would be presumptuous to make any prediction about where Oleksiak, who has been training at HPC - Ontario in Toronto for two years, will go once she completes high school. Her parents Alison and Richard were NCAA athletes, and her hockey-player brother Jamie Oleksiak played in Hockey East at Northeastern during his NHL draft season in 2010-11. It would seem like a natural fit for Oleksiak to go for continuity by staying at HPC - Ontario and joining U of T's team.

The point is that one should be open to the possibility that The Decision could involve continuing on in Canada. There is much more depth in the U.S. and the NCAA, whereas in CIS the most talented swimmers are concentrated in a few programs. The NCAA has a much better image, more hero worship and there's the pull of being a Big Woman In Campus.

That said, swimmers race the clock, and being in a HPC-adjacent CIS program is the best of both worlds. The wild part which I'm not sure has been examined properly is that, among the Swimming Canada braintrust, the jury could still be out on what events should become Oleksiak's specialty swims. On a Canadian scale, we might have an analog to Usain Bolt, who disproved a long-held assumption that tall men couldn't win a 100 or 200-metre dash.

The athlete pool in Canada is smaller, but at least the actual pool is the same size as the one at the Olympics and worlds .

It's probably moot where Oleksiak goes to school anyway. She is that good.
Rashaun Simonise made the most of his limited exposure in the Cincinnati Bengals' exhibition opener, suffice to say.

The former Calgary Dinos receiver turned a quick slant into a 47-yard reception during Cincinnati's 17-16 defeat against the Minnesota Vikings on Friday night. Who needs a waggle?
The first exhibition comes before the cutdown from 90 to 80 players. Cincinnati is looking at a lot of receivers to draw in on the depth chart beneath A.J. Green, who may or may not have helped a certain bloggist win his fantasy league last fall. Another rookie receiver housed an 80-yard punt return touchdown, which probably didn't help anyone else's cause.

Be that as it may, that is 'Canada West speed,' people. For Simonise, who started exploring pro options after being declared academically ineligible to play for Calgary, his floor might be a shot on the practice squad. He's 6-foot-5, fleet of foot and only 21, so to the Bengals, retaining Simonise could almost be like getting a tiny jump on starting their 2017 rookie class.
With the way people are on the Internet, the merest attempt to add some context to Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall losing his mind at McGill is going to be read as a defence of the indefensible.

There is no excuse for charging at a game official. It is also little bit telling that Marshall, when presented an opportunity to do so since a beat writer was present and ESPN's Andy Katz followed up with him, never thought to apologize to McGill for his antics. That is American Idiot behaviour -- the classic 'if you don't get your way, overreact by a factor of 10.' It probably won't result in any disciplinary action from the Wichita State athletic department, since it was only an exhibition game in Canada.

(Updates: Marshall will not coach in Wichita State's last game of the tour, big woop. The statement doesn't address dragging McGill into this nonsense, but the state school issued a "verbal apology" to McGill. Typical.

(I also understand this has been shared around on a Wichita State fan board by Marshall apologists. It's not about you guys, and your coach is lucky he didn't end up being booked for assault.)

Here are a couple videos, the one shot by a fan at Love Competition Hall and another from the McGill Sports Network webcast.

It is worth noting that the fan made note of, "Brutal calls all game."
What might have been: Mathieu Bertrand shattered McMaster's Vanier Cup ambitions in 2003 with a game-winning TD run.
Victors write the history, and CIS football obsessives with too much time on their hands rewrite it to tide them over until the start of the season.

Perhaps this post idea sprang as a rearguard action against the prospect of another football season where the road to the Vanier Cup will go through the Laval/Montreal/Blake Nill axis of awesomeness. The endless loop will involve some riveting conference playoff games that might be available only via webcast, the OUA being three-tiered (powerhouses, the pretty goods, the perpetually mediocre), and the AUS champion getting the obligatory pat on the head after travelling a few thousand kilometres to get blown out in the Mitchell Bowl.

So much depends on the bowl rotation when it comes to having a memorable final four. I am the guiltiest of trolling sundry Londoners when the team with the biggest football budget in Ontario, non-Stu Lang division, has their Vanier Cup drought extended for another year. In fairness, three of the four Yates Cup-winning teams Greg Marshall has produced since 2007 were on the road for their semifinal bowl.

Anyway, today's twist on fantasy football is imagining Vanier Cup matchups that could, would, should have happened. The parameters: maximum of two different outcomes in the conference finals or the bowls.

What happened: UBC 25, Western 23 
What might have been: Bishop's-Western

Like their 1982, '97 and 2015 teams, the '86 Thunderbirds ventured down east for the semifinal, won it, and stuck around to win the Vanier too. That championship game was the first to match two undefeated teams, and it was one of the most dramatic, as Eric Pututo came off the bench to march UBC down a muddy field before connecting with Rob Ros on the winning touchdown in the final seconds.

However, the Bishop's Gaiters of coach Ian Breck certainly rated an opportunity to play for all the marbles at least once. The small school reached the Dunsmore Cup nine times in 11 seasons from 1984 through '94, winning four times. In '86, they won the O-QIFC (aka the Nontario conference) for the first time and hosted the semifinal on campus. Alas for BU, UBC pulled out a 32-30 win.

Bishop's vs. Western would have been the small Quebec school against the large Ontario school, with both wearing purple and silver. (They did meet in the 1994 semifinal, and in an interlocking regular-season game in '99, and yes, it looked weird.)

I am in no position to say whether '86 was Bishop's best shot at a national title during Breck's 24-season tenure. To nine-year-old me, football was boring and violent, and then-Gaiters star Leroy Blugh was a member of the North Fredericksburgh Kings junior men's fastpitch team, which won the first of back-to-back Canadian titles that summer.

Also, in 1992 the Gaiters were ranked No. 2 heading into conference championship week, with a high-octane O led by QB Jim Murphy and a speedy D bolstered by future long-time CFL deep back Tom Europe. Queen's stunned Bishop's 32-6. That day had two defining moments - a Queen's goal-line stand that maintained a halftime lead, and Brad Elberg housing the second-half kickoff, going 86 yards through the muck and mire. They played on grass back then, you know.

Odd note about UBC: all four of their Vanier Cup winning teams have had to go east for the semifinal. In 1987, UBC defeated Laurier at home, then got on the plane and lost the Vanier to McGill.

What happened: UBC 39, Ottawa 23
What might have been: Mount Allison-Waterloo

Kids, back in the '90s, you needed a landline to get on the Internet. Waterloo being good and the Atlantic conference having relative parity with the rest of the country were also whole things.

In the actual game, UBC, with QB Shawn Olson and the tailback tag-team of Mark Nohra and Akbal Singh working behind a stacked offensive line, beat Ottawa decisively. It was a bad game in front of a bad crowd of only 8,000 at Skydome. The small gathering might or might not have included an undergrad from another eastern Ontario university who relished the Gee-Gees getting their comeuppance, who would go on to become uOttawa's play-by-play commentator.

Both semis were high-scoring games, with UBC outlasting Mount Allison 34-29 in the Atlantic Bowl while Ottawa defeated Waterloo 44-37 to get the unification belt in Ontario. Since this is fantasy, one can assume the Mounties would have a healthy Éric Lapointe instead of having to carry on without the two-time Hec Crighton Trophy winner, who was out with a broken arm. Lapointe might have helped the Mount A defence get more rest, which would have helped defensive end Mathieu Gauthier and his mates keep up the fight.  

The Churchill matchup is mostly remembered for the infamous "illegal interference by an unauthorized person" penalty on Ottawa that was called when the Gee-Gees mascot took down a Waterloo receiver. The fallout from that, apart from enduring infamy, was that the officials penalized Ottawa half the distance to the goal. Waterloo 'dive back' Eddie Kim broke a 17-yard touchdown run on an inside dive on the next play.

Ottawa's speed won the day, as Chris Evraire accounted for two of their three punt return TDs. That said, it would have been something to have the engineering school which had never won a Yates Cup before 1997 against the small school from the Maritimes, who probably would have had more support at Skydome despite Waterloo's proximity to the GTA.

Warriors coach Tuffy Knight had his wishbone running on all eight cylinders that season with option QB Ryan Wilkinson and 'pitch back' Jarrett Smith. The Mounties had a good offence built around Lapointe, who's now in the Hall of Fame as a university player. With all that running, they might have finished that game in 2½ hours, even with extra TV timeouts.

What happened: Ottawa 42, Regina 39
What might have been: Ottawa-Saint Mary's 

Ottawa was dominant in the final seasons of the old O-Q (four conference titles and two Vanier berths from 1995-2000), while the Blake Nill Huskies repped the Atlantic every November from '99 till 2004.

Both teams were at a peak in 2000. The tectonic shifts in the university game factored into Ottawa an SMU never getting together for a game that would have included teams that with explosion-play capability in all three phases, and swarming defences.

Nill also had some experience with the Gee-Gees, since he was defensive coordinator at St. FX when they shut down Ottawa 13-5 in the '96 Atlantic Bowl.

The prologue was 1999, when Laval beat an 8-0 Ottawa team in the playoffs on the way to their first national title, and Regina imported their junior program into Canada West. (Ottawa was on CIAU probation, so 6-2 Laval hosted that Dunsmore Cup.)

Laval's ascendancy led to Ottawa and Queen's shifting their football teams back to the OUA, which diminished the bilingual university's ability to fish in the deepening Quebec recruiting pool. Regina, with 27-year-old QB Darryl Leason, also made one of the great road runs in 2000, upsetting Saint Mary's 40-36 in Atlantic Bowl in Halifax. That game probably started the conversation about an age cap in university football.

The way that Atlantic Bowl got away from the Huskies is unforgettable. Saint Mary's opened a two-score lead. A poorly directed kickoff created a wide field for Neal Hughes to house a kickoff with an 89-yard return, saving Regina the trouble of the need to run a one-minute drill for a touchdown and try to recover the ensuing short kickoff.

A quick exchange of possession followed Hughes' touchdown, and Saint Mary's gave a safety that cut the lead to a field goal. Of course, that meant kicking off again, which was a trigger for fatalists. Hughes broke a 67-yard return into the red zone, and Regina capitalized for the TD.

The tightening of the age rules certainly set back Saint Mary's. So have tighter budgets and OUA's introduction of scholarships athlete financial awards keeping more players at home. They were great in their time.

For those who don't recall, or don't care, 42-39 was a misleading score. The Rams scored a window-dressing touchdown and two-point convert with zeroes on the clock.

What happened: Laval 14, Saint Mary's 7
What might have been: McMaster-Saint Mary's

As alluded to up top, the bowl rotation has been less than serendipitous for Greg Marshall as a head coach. The four-in-a-row Marauders got to host a national semifinal thrice from 2000 till '03. By the last one in 2003, the "if not now, when?" desperation had traction beyond just the Marauders and their following, since OUA's Vanier Cup absence stood at seven seasons.

Laval got by McMaster 36-32 in the Mitchell Bowl on the margin of Mathieu Bertrand's long touchdown run late in the fourth quarter. Memories are hazy, and the game isn't on YouTube, but the way it's recalled is the Marauders were blitzing, so Bertrand coolly called his own number and scored on a quarterback draw. The Marauders had time to respond, but a pass just sailed past a receiver's hands inside the 10-yard line in the final seconds.

Who knows how Mac would have fared against SMU. We know that Laval eighty-sixed a great storyline. Mac would have been in its first Vanier since the event's infancy, while SMU was going for a three-peat. That's the contrast in team histories broadcasters love. Mac and SMU also had a familiarity after playing in the 2002 semifinal. Then you have the whole Maritimer resentment of Upper Canada.

Everything happens for a reason, though. McMaster would eventually get another chance against Laval.

What happened: Laval 29, Calgary 2
What might have been: Calgary vs. Ottawa

Calgary and Erik Glavic, two-time Hec Crighton winner, against Ottawa and Brad Sinopoli, the 2010 Hec honouree. Now that is a quarterback matchup that would play in Peoria: two dual threats who often extended plays beyond all logical limits.

Ottawa got home-field advantage throughout the Yates Cup playoffs on the margin of a one-point home win against Western in the season opener. The Mustangs avenged that with a two-point win in the Yates Cup, prevailing on Lirim Hajrallahu's late field goal. That probably seemed just to the Mustangs, who in the regular-season game had a potential game-icing TD taken off the board after being penalized for a pick play.

In the reg-season game, Ottawa took the lead with 35 seconds left. In the Yates, there was 1:45 left when Ottawa kicked a sure go-ahead field goal on a third-and-1. That left Western just enough time to reply.

Now, how can one say Ottawa should have been in the Vanier after failing to get it done on their home field in the Yates? Well, the Yates was close, and the spoils of winning was a Uteck Bowl against a banged-up Laval team with a first-year starting quarterback. The Rouge et Or just slipped by Sherbrooke 19-18 to get out of Quebec.

Western went toe-to-toe with Laval, but the Rouge et Or took down four interceptions and eked by 13-11 at a blustery PEPS. Ottawa was the more advanced team in the passing phase, and was capable of challenging Laval's back eight. Both the 2009 Queen's and 2011 McMaster teams beat Laval by taking vertical shots, along with doing a lot of other good stuff.

Any other matchup would have been more watchable than Laval plowing over Calgary in a snow bowl.  Or maybe it would not have been.

That's the point; we'll never know, but it's fun to imagine.
Next PostNewer Posts Previous PostOlder Posts Home