Canada West not moving on basketball scheduling issue

Info graphics for the win

Info graphics for the win

Tiered system flawed for next year’s schedule

Article: Paul Esau/The Cascade

[dropcaps round=”no”]A[/dropcaps]BBOTSFORD (CUP) — The 2014–15 season is going to be an unusual one for the numerous teams in Canada West basketball programs, as they play the same five teams again and again…and again…and again.

On Oct. 30, the University of Fraser Valley’s motion to rescind the 2014–15 schedule – which was accepted at a previous Canada West meeting in June – was defeated by a vote of 22–6, almost ensuring the schedule will become a reality next season. Each of the 14 voting schools in Canada West are allowed two voting representatives at each meeting, and only UFV, Manitoba and UBC-O voted in favour of rescinding the schedule.

Currently, every team in Canada West, a conference of Canadian Interuniversity Sport, or CIS, plays every other team at least once per season. The addition of six teams in the last five years has necessitated a shake-up of scheduling practices, since playing all 16 other Canada West teams in 2014-15 would stress each program’s athletes and budget. Canada West representatives accepted and analyzed numerous scheduling proposals before the June meeting where they decided to break the league into two divisions: a “Pioneer” division of the 11 “historical” members, and an “Explorer” division of the six “newer” members, including UFV.

Canada West responds

According to Basil Hughton, Canada West president and University of Saskatchewan athletic director, change is necessary.

“I’m a relatively new AD,” he said. “I’m just entering my sixth year, and when I first came on board, we had 11 full members. That was in 2008 … and then we went up to the point now where we have 14 full members and three probationary. We’ve seen a very big influx in new schools, new members, and we’ve obviously had rapid growth. And the biggest challenge with rapid growth is scheduling.”

Individual schedules are voted in for each Canada West sport, and basketball, with the most member participation of any sport, has its own unique challenges. Still, the 11 and six divisional split is controversial in that it doesn’t recognize geographic considerations, historic program rankings or numerical parity between divisions.

“I think in fairness,” said Hughton. “And this is me editorializing now, not as the president but as a member, I’m saying, very clearly, there wasn’t a good alternative in basketball. The decision to put this [schedule] forward was the best information we had at the time and [the best one] we could try given the circumstances.”

In the six-team “Explorer” division, UFV will play the other five teams four times each to produce a 20-game schedule. Some, including UFV president Mark Evered in an open letter to the presidents of Canada West institutions, have accused Canada West of creating a “tiered” divisional structure behind meaningless euphemisms. While Hughton said “the semantics [of “Pioneer” and “Explorer”] are lost on me; I didn’t like the words, either one of them,” he maintains that Evered and others are mistaken.

“I can understand the perception of tiering,” Hughton said. “But that isn’t what we did.

“Let me rephrase what I said earlier,” he continued. “The basketball schedule that ultimately passed was the one that membership felt was … the best fit for what they saw that they wanted to do.”

Also voted on in late October was a 2014-15 Canada West playoff format that is dependent on the results of this season’s schedule. If the 2013-14 Canada West champion is in the Pioneer Division, the ten-team format will include the seven top Pioneer teams and the three top Explorer teams. If it happens to be an Explorer champion, it will be involve six Pioneer and four Explorer teams. The Final Four tournament will be hosted by the highest remaining seed left after the quarterfinals, rather than the team with the best regular season record, as under the current format.

Impact to athletic programs

Evered and others at his school have been highly critical of the upcoming schedule, pointing out that it hurts UFV’s recruiting appeal, athletics prestige and potential competitiveness. Evered especially has been a significant asset to the resistance, despite the traditionally hands-off role of university presidents relative to CIS issues.

“Recognizing that decisions made by CIS or any of its divisions could have an impact on our institutions,” Evered said. “It’s not unreasonable that the president should have some significant say in the work of CIS and its divisions. There’s still those who feel that presidents should have more than an advisory role; they should have a more decisive role.”

Having already been defeated in an attempt to rescind the motion that led to the two-division 2014-15 schedule, UFV will have to adopt other measures in defending the interests of its varsity programs. Since the motion only dictates the schedule for one season, both Gordon and Olfert are committed to preventing it from being extended or adopted in other sports.

“Our concern is that this is just the beginning,” said Gordon. “That this 11 and six will move into other sports … [We need] to stop this becoming a pattern or trend.”

A number of schools will partake in meetings this December to attempt some strategic planning for Canada West and future scheduling. The discussions UFV has begun on the topic will be vitally important for Canada West moving forward, even though they are unlikely to change the realities of next season’s basketball schedule.

Evered likened the situation “to the frustration with a referee who makes a lot of bad calls. Following up on that is unlikely to change the outcome, but you’ve at least alerted others to the problem.”

Neither UFV men’s coach Adam Friesen nor women’s coach Al Tuchscherer are enthused with the schedule their teams will play in 2014–15, yet both understand their authority is on the court rather than in the meeting room. For now, the schools of Canada West have voted to accept a schedule that divides them into two unequal divisions; a system that will require Victoria to play Manitoba, but not have UFV driving 20 minutes down the road to play rival Trinity Western. Hughton says democracy has spoken, but there is dissent on that opinion.

Impact at home

UFV has not been the only school to be affected by changes made to the structuring of Canada West basketball.

When new divisions were put into place back in 2009-10, the University of Regina also felt the impact. This was a time when the Canada West league format adopted a two-division system, with the Great Plains and Central Divisions merging into a Prairie Division and a Pacific Division that remains intact. The playoff format saw four Prairie teams make the post-season, three Pacific schools in and a wild card team between the Prairie fifth-place finisher and Pacific fourth-place squad.

“We have made the playoffs now for 17 years in a row, so there is a little bit of pride riding there that we would like to continue to do that,” Hillis said, back in 2011. “The playoff structure has changed; it’s Victoria to Winnipeg, with only top eight now, whereas before with the divisions and all that, you were getting top 12 out of 16.”

Prior to this change, the University of Regina Cougars had made the playoffs 15 years in a row, once the change was introduced; they have made just two playoff appearances in the last four years and currently sit two spots back of the post season.

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