Wellsie’s Canada West Trails – The Canada West Hoops Conundrum

By: Dave Wells

Lethbridge, Alberta
Recently I found out Canada West basketball may go to four weeks of playoffs in 2017-18.
Frankly, I almost had a conniption.
That would mean that more than half of the 17 member teams would finish their home regular season in January. Even so, the eventual qualifiers would only have four or five days off before starting nationals in Halifax. According to my good friend Google, taken to the extreme (Victoria) that’s 4,475 km by air (6,220 km driving. Teams wouldn’t do that, but maybe some economy-minded followers would.)
Fortunately, my oh-so quick temper didn’t get the best of me in this case. I decided to research the topic and ultimately realized there are good intentions behind a four-stage playoff concept. For example, history has shown best-of-three Canada West playoff series can generate much more interest and revenue than any other format. It’s not even close.
Personally, I clearly remember doing PA for Ken Shields’ final Canada West game as his Vikes outlasted Bruce Enns ‘Birds in Game 3 one glorious Victoria Sunday 1989 afternoon. The old UVic McKinnon Gym barn was jammed to overflowing. I can also recall a best-of-three playoff final series here in the ‘Bridge where every game was sold-out in advance. We won’t speak of that outcome however.
Alas, Canada West basketball didn’t have 17 teams in those days. You could get to a best-of-three final (although that wasn’t always the format used) in two rounds from 1972-1999. Even my favourite years with a Regional Championship also in play the entire lead-up for Canada West teams to Nationals was three weeks long – and the Nationals were a Final 4, requiring only two games at the end of the line.
I could more readily accept four weeks if the Nationals were in early April. But, we know that can’t happen because U Sports doesn’t want to go head-to-head with DI March Madness.
Really, the crux of the problem is that basketball is so popular with Canada West university presidents. How does that make sense you ask?
Well, due to geography Canada West is a costly travel proposition. Football and hockey are much more expensive than basketball overall. So, if you are a university president in Western Canada and you want to be a member of the U Sports club playing one of the Big Three spectator sports in the most economic fashion possible, hoops is your ticket. Here’s the 2016-17  sport declarations for Canada West as a whole.
You can see while all 17 members play basketball, only eight compete in Canada West hockey and six buck-up for football.
Those of you who think tiering is an answer are dreaming in technicolor. Again, too long to get into, but trust me here some university presidents would kibosh that idea.
How about purely geographic divisions? I just don’t see the CW football schools and UVic going for that.
You say Canada West should be broken into two different conferences for basketball purposes? So did Canada West for a while. No way that will fly with the other U Sports conferences, especially when it has to stay together for many sports, including football and hockey (okay, ice hockey.)
At first I considered going over the entire history of how Canada West came to reach the truly odd total of 17 (heck 18 would be better – and yes, I’d love to see SFU return) basketball playing members in this space. But, really why relive the agony?
Just think of how exponentially greater CW basketball regular season travel budgets are than any other conference!
I’ll just sum it up in this fashion. I vividly recall Ken Shields wearing his athletic director hat at UVic mocking as only Ken can the very thought of flying to Winnipeg for regular season games due to cost. I wish I could have seen Ken’s reaction in the spring of 1989 if I’d been able to look into the future and tell him what would unfold.
But, it did. And now, seemingly the regular season and playoff formats are up-for-debate virtually every season. Unless Solomon returns to run Canada West (and he’s as good as his notices) there are no great answers.
Well, I do have a second option, but it doesn’t appear to be realistic due to the laws of physics. Time Travel.
To me, CW should have remained split in two different roundball loops (remember GPAC). Then, expansion would have made perfect sense.
I doubt anyone on Earth thinks what has happened made perfect sense – or even close to perfect sense.
But, I’d wager having over half your teams finish their regular home basketball season in January is no lasting answer either.

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