Men's basketball: OUA East dominated OUA West again

There used to be a political chant, The West Wants In. In OUA basketball, the chant, emanating from somewhere in the vicinity of the Niagara Escarpment, is The West Wants An Easier Road To Nationals. The OUA heard it, which was inevitable, but unfortunately, they chose to apply it.

The men's basketball regular-season standings were revealing enough about how the conference tilts eastward. The East teams have two all-but-assured losses against Carleton and one fewer regular-season game than West teams, who get the free spaces on the bingo card in the form of the Algoma Thunderbirds. Regardless, the East's fourth-placed Laurentian had 16 wins, while the West's second-placed Western had 15.

The above tables that Denis Beausoleil (@DenisBeausoleil) generated make the imbalance, and the injustice that only two teams from a division can reach the league semifinals and get consideration for the Final 8's wild-card berth, all the more glaringly self-evident. The post-season matchups are playing out in a way that would make Gary Bettman proud.

In the quarter-finals on this Saturday, the quantitatively No. 5 team, Laurentian, gets the abandon-all-hope trip to No. 1 Carleton. The No. 6 squad, Western, will host Windsor.

Last week, Queen's, which graded out eighth in Beausoleil's crunching of Simple Ranking System, had to face Ryerson in a prelim. Windsor, who was 10th-best, hosted Waterloo. Incidentally, Waterloo's 13th-best SRS was lower than the 12th-best of Nipissing, which was the first one out of the playoff tree in OUA East.

All of that could have been forecast from the moment last spring when OUA announced it was reverting to a stricter East/West format, resetting the clock to 2013 and '14 when Ryerson was a Top 5 team but had its route to nationals closed by Ottawa and Carleton. It was like a wet blanket and a cinder block to the face, all at once, to see a league that is trending positively in so many ways by university sports standards — national team and G-league opportunities for Carleton and Ryerson; schools actually bidding to host national championships, unlike football — act against its interests.

There are a dozen changes in governance, funding and administration — cough, scholarships — that would go farther toward creating competitive balance in the major university team sports. Those can be saved for another day. The crux of it comes down to equality of opportunity.

With full realization this is a reiteration of playoff format posts past, the ideal way to accommodate the influx of basketball talent available to OUA — overflow of players left over others heed the siren song of America's shamateurism-industrial complex with all its tax-evading excesses — is to have the loosest, independent-of-geography structure possible. Space the floor. There is no way to anticipate which school will decide it's actually worth basketball-ing right, so why put an arbitrary barrier in place? Schools don't control their location.

One can read a little about the values of a sports league by how it decides a champion. It's telling that the NBA, for instance, might go to the ultimate athletic meritocracy of a 1-through-16 format.  The NHL prefers having its best teams eliminate each other early in the playoffs, as a concession to the fact it loses viewership to the spring weather during the conference and Stanley Cup finals.

Again, it was disheartening that OUA took a step back after a few years of the progressive, yet flawed, "RPI-offs." The next step should have been going to Simple Ranking System (SRS), which is more meritocratic. It was one reason for this diehard to withdraw a little from this underrated and misunderstood corner of Hoopdom for this season.
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