Investigating the Ontario scheduling issues
With the addition of the Carleton Ravens, the Ontario University Athletics football conference grew to a nation-high 11 teams.
While the growth of the Ontario conference has been a positive light for football in the province, it also presented issues this year with scheduling.
“Because there are 11 teams now, every team avoids playing two teams and, in addition to that, every team has a bye week,” said Wilfrid Laurier University football head coach Michael Faulds.
With 11 teams, the OUA was forced to change the way the schedule was made. Every team has a non-combatant team, which means someone from the opposite scale of the standings from the previous year — the upper or lower echelon of the standings — they would not play, as well as another random team out of the nine teams left in the league.
Because of the odd numbers, the OUA also implemented a bye week for every team within the nine-week schedule.
“I think that any time you have an odd number of teams, it’s problematic,” said Queen’s University football head coach Pat Sheahan. “I think there’s going to be issues with such a large number of teams.”
In comparison to the other conferences in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), the OUA has the most teams in a single conference.
The next closest number of teams is six in the Canada West and Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) conferences. The Atlantic University Sport (AUS) conference has four teams.
Many coaches in the OUA believe that the conference is at a disadvantage.
“It’s hard to win the OUA. Winning the Ontario championship is difficult and now we’re competing against a conference that has four teams in it,” said Western University football head coach Greg* Marshall.
“Think of conference all-stars,” Faulds said. “Take a running back or a quarterback. If you want to be a first-team conference quarterback in the OUA, you have to be the best quarterback out of 11. If you want to be the best quarterback out of the AUS, you have to be the best out of four.”
However, football head coach at McMaster University, Stefan Ptaszek, believes that the large conference is a good notion.
“On the contrary, I think it’s a sign of how healthy the OUA is and the ability to have any one of four, six teams come out of the conference any given year,” he said. “The variety of styles and programs across the province [is great].”
“I think the 11 teams is a great thing,” Ptaszek continued. “I think that it means student athletes in our province have so many opportunities.”
The University of Waterloo’s football head coach Joe Paopao mirrored Ptaszek’s thoughts.
“I like to look at it that we’re the toughest conference in the CIS because from top to bottom, teams are getting better,” he said.
While all coaches mentioned that Carleton joining the OUA was a testament to the strength of the conference, they also stressed the issues this presents for training camp, facilities and student athletes. The earlier start this year – with training camps starting around the middle of August – presented issues throughout the OUA.
“The earlier we start, the more pressure it is on the athletes,” Sheahan said. “From a competitive point of view, the coaches appreciate more time to prepare the athletes for the first game. But there’s never enough time for that, so that’s what’s juxtaposed to that.”
“With the extra team in the league and everyone having to have a bye, it did affect the student athletes. If we’re starting training camp earlier, they have to end their summer employment earlier,” Faulds said.
In 2013, the first year of the new scheduling process, the biggest issue came with the McMaster Marauders, who finished 5-3.
In the final week of the season, McMaster was required to win their game to position themselves well going into the playoffs. However, because their two non-combatants were the Toronto Varsity Blues and the Windsor Lancers — the other two teams battling for playoff spots — there was the potential for tiebreakers.
“It created some very odd scenarios where we could finish as high as third and as low as seventh going into the last week,” Ptaszek said. “It meant we had to make sure we won games leading into the [final week] by more than 33 points. It was awkward.”
All coaches agreed that there are no easy fixes to the OUA scheduling process. If games were added, training camp would start too early in the summer and end too late to work for the national semifinal. As well, despite there being almost twice as many teams in one conference than the six-team conferences, there is still only one berth out of the OUA.
However, the OUA coaches do have ideas to help the OUA be a more viable conference.
“Pre-setting the schedule for the next five years [can work],” Faulds said. “Instead of making one schedule at a time, you preset it for the next four to five years and everyone misses everyone an equal amount of times. So then it’s a lot more fair for everyone.”
Marshall echoed Faulds’ thoughts.
“It’d be nice if we worked on a schedule that we knew from year to year. But since it’s based on your placing, it’s hard to do from year to year,” he said.
Ptaszek presented a different way to split up the OUA.
“I like the CFL model, where there are two big divisions and you’re responsible for your pecking order within your division,” Ptaszek said. “So if we do Ontario North and South. Then it’d be the same. The first two teams get byes and then the second and third in the North and South would play off.”
And Paopao believes that the issues go far beyond just the OUA.
“I think they’re trying to work out what works for the whole CIS,” he said. “I don’t think it’s just [the OUA]. They need some balance and hopefully one day it comes to fruition.”
However, short-term fixes don’t seem to be in sight. With the 2014 OUA football schedule set to be released sometime in December, OUA coaches will look forward to making their team the best in the conference, searching for the Vanier Cup.
“I think what we need to do, we being the Ontario schools, is take care of our own conference and ourselves,” Sheahan said. “By making the Ontario conference stronger, more viable, more desirable to play in, it makes our conference better. It makes us a great football province.”
* This story has been edited from its original version.