Print Edition: November 6, 2013
The 2014-15 season is going to be an unusual one for the UFV Cascades basketball programs, as they play the same five teams again and again… and again…and again.
On October 30, UFV’s motion to rescind the 2014-15 schedule 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 region 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 2014-2015 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 10-team format will include the seven top Pioneer teams and the three top Explorer teams. If it happens to be a 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 quarter-finals, rather than the team with the best regular season record (as under the current format).
UFV’s next step
Evered, vice president of students Jody Gordon, and athletics director Rocky Olfert have all 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 UFV 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 2014-2015 schedule, UFV will have to adopt other measures in defending the interests of UFV 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.”
As well, both will take part in Canada West meetings this December as representatives from a number of schools attempt some strategic planning for the organization and for 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.
The parable of the referee
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.”
Gordon went further, saying, “if I was the team that was the beneficiary of the bad call I would still want to step back and look at that and say, ‘this isn’t good for the league’ … From [Canada West’s] perspective, this isn’t good for the conference.”
Neither UFV men’s coach Adam Friesen nor women’s coach Al Tuchscherer are enthused with the schedule their teams will play in 2013-2015, 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. Evered, Gordon, and Olfert would beg to differ.