Representatives from the University of the Fraser Valley were stunned by a decision at the Canada West annual general meeting in Toronto last week, which will trigger a radical realignment of the conference’s basketball teams.
The revised structure, which would take effect in 2014-15, features two divisions, one with 11 teams and one with six. Teams would play 20-game schedules and divisions would not interlock until the post-season. A playoff format has yet to be decided upon.
UFV is in the smaller division, along with five other relative newcomers to Canada West – MacEwan University, Mount Royal, University of Northern B.C., Thompson Rivers University, and UBC-Okanagan.
Of those schools, only TRU has been in the conference longer than UFV. The WolfPack joined in 2005-06, one year before the Cascades.
The other division includes Alberta, Brandon, Calgary, Lethbridge, Manitoba, Regina, Saskatchewan, Trinity Western, UBC, Victoria, and Winnipeg. In general, these “old guard” schools are larger institutions with longer tenures in Canada West, not to mention bigger budgets when it comes to athletics.
The word “tiering” wasn’t used in the Canada West press release, but with all the traditional powerhouses on one side, that’s certainly what it looks like.
“We’re really disappointed,” UFV athletic director Rocky Olfert told The News. “No disrespect to the newer programs coming in, but they’re newer programs, and there’s a concern that we’re not going to get the competitive level that we need.
“We’ve established ourselves among the best teams in both men’s and women’s (basketball) in the last few years.”
Indeed, the Cascades hoopsters have been nothing short of elite.
The UFV men’s team finished fourth at the CIS national championships in 2012, and this past season, they beat the Saskatchewan Huskies in the first playoff round and came within one victory of a return trip to nationals.
Al Tuchscherer, the Cascades women’s basketball coach, said that separating the supposed haves from the have-nots is “a slap in the face.”
“It’s just ludicrous,” he said. “I’m obviously incredibly disappointed that that’s the direction they’ve decided to go. I’m hoping the discussions aren’t finished on that, and that people can come to their senses and realize that this isn’t in the best interest of all Canada West members.”
Tuchscherer said that being in a division that’s perceived to be second-class will hurt the Cascades in recruiting.
“It’s tiering without actually calling it tiering,” he said. “And I don’t know why they think that we’re Tier 2. We have some teams that have never beaten us in that division, and some that have never beaten us for years.
“Both our men’s and women’s teams have found ways to compete . . . Now it’s like, ‘No, we’re going to put you back at the start line, and we’re going to take all your tools away from you.’ It’s just such a stacked deck.”
There have been rumblings about Canada West tiering for a couple of years now, revolving around the notion that the football schools would break off and form a higher division in all sports, with non-football schools comprising a lower echelon.
That particular vision didn’t come to fruition, much to the relief of schools like UFV and volleyball/soccer pace-setter Trinity Western. But the concept reared its head again as a basketball-only initiative, as the conference sought to make scheduling accommodations for its newest member, MacEwan University of Edmonton. MacEwan is the conference’s 17th school, and basketball is the only sport in which every institution participates.
The controversial realignment plan was one of several scheduling options circulated via email several weeks ago and voted on at the AGM. The initial email referred to the divisions as “Pioneer” and “Explorer,” a sales job that Tuchscherer termed “comical.”
That proposal, though, did garner the most votes last week. But four of the six teams in the smaller division didn’t have a vote – UBC-O, Mount Royal, UNBC and MacEwan were still provisional members at the time (UBC-O became a permanent member at the AGM, but not until after the basketball division/schedule vote).
One of the new alignment’s absurdities from UFV’s perspective is that they would no longer play Trinity Western, their local rival located 20 minutes down the road in Langley, not to mention provincial rivals UBC and Victoria.
Other teams which share the same city, like Calgary/Mount Royal and Alberta/MacEwan, would likewise not play each other in the regular season.
Olfert hinted that UFV won’t take the decision lying down, though he declined to go into detail on potential avenues of recourse.
“We are hoping that something can be reversed,” he said. “We’d like to think we can put something forward to create a schedule that respects those members that have been in Canada West for a long time, but also still allows us to compete against our local rivals.”
The Canada West soccer league also tweaked its divisions, but those changes were minor and dictated by geography.