If you’ve been paying attention lately to the action south of the border, you might be aware of the seismic shift that’s been occurring in college sports over the past couple of years.
Whether it’s the BCS (Bowl Championship Series) buster kids Boise State, TCU (Texas Christian University), and Utah jumping ship to greener pastures in bigger BCS conferences, or big guns Nebraska, Missouri, Colorado, and West Virginia fleeing to even better conferences, one has to seriously wonder whether the NCAA (National Colligate Athletic Association) is losing its proverbial head in this crazy, trans-continental game of musical chairs. Indeed, you know something is wrong when a conference called the Big Ten has twelve teams, another called the Big 12 has ten, and a school located in southwestern Idaho is going to be playing in a conference called the Big East.
And the fact that many of these moves are football i.e. revenue driven makes it all the more crazy for the other more low-key collegiate teams in sports such as soccer and volleyball that will now have to fly across the country to play “in-conference” games against opponents rather than busing a few short miles to the local rival the day of.
North of the 49, the conference changes that have occurred in Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) over the past decade have usually only involved the promotion of university athletic programmes that have “graduated” from playing at the community college level, the CCAA (Canadian College Athletic Association), and have joined one of the CIS’ four conferences — schools like UBC Okanagan and Mount Royal University in Canada West being a case in point.
Since the four conferences that make up CIS — the AUS (Atlantic University Sport), RSEQ (Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec), OUA (Ontario University Athletics) and CWUAA (Canada West University Athletic Association) — are based on the physical geography and location of their member schools rather than institutional ties or links based on history or pedigree, save for sports such as ice hockey where teams from Québec do compete in the OUA due to lack of participants in la Belle Province, it would be very odd if, say, the Golden Bears and Pandas decided on a whim to switch membership from Canada West to play in the RSEQ.
The only drastic change that has occurred to the conference makeup of the CIS in the past decade, other than, of course, the schools and programmes coming up from the CCAA, would be the groundbreaking decision from Simon Fraser University to leave Canada West and, ultimately, the CIS altogether in order to join the ranks of the NCAA’s Division II, becoming the first school outside the United States or Puerto Rico to do so.
This does not mean, however, that elite and underperforming schools and programmes aren’t looking for ways to shake things up.
McGill University, whose football team has performed horrendously over the past five years, has applied for membership to join the OUA, the conference composed solely of Ontario post-secondary institutions. The team has cited unfair competition levels in the RESQ (against super programmes Laval, Montréal, and Sherbrooke), as well as a chance to re-spark the old rivalries among their Old Four conference counterparts from Ontario (Toronto, Queen’s, and Western) as reasonable grounds for a potential switch.
Last year, the president of UBC, Stephen Toope, proposed, albeit hypothetically, instituting a multi-level tier system to up the level of competitiveness of university sport in Canada. Although he hinted that the tier system would operate similar to the NCAA’s Divison I, II, and III systems, it would differ from it in that schools would allocate different sports to the different tiers of competitiveness as opposed to whole athletic programmes being relegated to a lower level or vice versa.
This would mean that if, for instance, the U of A wanted to invest more resources and money into volleyball and soccer and reduce basketball funding, the proposed system would see the Golden Bears and Pandas compete at the top tier in the first two sports against other top tier competition, and the lower tier in the last one against lower tier competition.
Utilizing a tier option would allow the top talent in the country or in a specific conference in any one given sport to congregate at certain schools and programmes and compete consistently at a high level against other talent stacked schools and programmes. It would also minimize the harsh reality that is currently present in some CIS sports such as men’s basketball and women’s volleyball, where schools like Carleton and UBC, respectively, can go whole seasons or multiple seasons undefeated or barely registering a single loss, and win national championships again and again.
And since these current “power teams” are too good for the rest of CIS but not talented enough to compete against the full-ride scholarship earning D2 athletes from the NCAA, a stagnant reality is created in many sports where very little changes and competition remains dormant.
Moving to the tier system proposed by Toope allows for a higher level of competition and a more even and level playing field which will then, inevitably, translate into a better entertainment product for the fans and most definitely add an additional incentive for young and elite Canadian-born and trained athletes to have a variety of options to win in CIS — or, better yet, encourage those bound to schools and programmes south of the border to stay in Canada.
So although you probably won’t be seeing BC-based Trinity Western playing weekly against teams from the AUS, there are proposals to have plans under way to ensure that the best teams, wherever they are located across this country, will consistently play against other good teams, without schools having to totally dismantle the current conference alignments to do so.
The remnants of chivalry still linger today, especially in the dating world.