Changing OUA structure for basketball

Photo by Zoe Nguyen

Photo by Zoe Nguyen

A transformation is underway in the Ontario University Athletics basketball structure this season. However the jury is still out on its necessity or success.

Two years ago, the teams were split into two conferences, with seven in the East and eight in the West. The top six teams from each conference made the playoffs and the spot you finished determined your seed in the conference.

The seeds determined the bracket-style playoff matchups, culminating with a championship game. One club was heralded as the provincial champion, but both earned a ticket straight to the national championships. However, last season the league began to extend its reach to the outskirts of Ontario, hoping to expand.

Enter the Algoma Thunderbirds — the pride of Sault Ste. Marie and the new addition to the league. The club has a combined total of five wins in 29 tries since coming into existence.

Their record proved to be less of a problem than their location. The scheduling system in the OUA made absurd travel times for teams, as well as an increase of imbalance in the league due to the inexperience of the program.

As the 2014-15 season approached, the OUA found itself in a familiar situation: they were set to introduce the newest addition to the league, the Nippissing Lakers, situated in the depths of North Bay.

The decision was then made to make an overhaul on how the league would be set up. Conferences have been discarded in place of four divisions. Wilfrid Laurier University has found itself in the division with Western, Windsor, Waterloo and Algoma. The divisions are made based on geography. Each team will play its divisional rivals twice and everyone else once. This aims to reduce travel and promote rivalries. As the season has gotten underway, Peter Campbell, head coach of Laurier’s men’s basketball team is doubtful that travel will be reduced at all.

“Unless you are changing all the games, you can’t reduce travel,” he said.

Paul Falco,head coach of the women’s team, agreed with Campbell.

“These divisions were supposed to reduce travel, but I don’t know if it is going to overall if we keep adding teams that are far away, because we are going to have to travel there anyways,” he said.

“We had games cancelled last year in February between Mac and Brock because of weather, so now you are going to try to bring a team from one end of the province to another,” Campbell said.

Aside from travel, a concern has been that splitting teams into divisions sacrifices an equal playing field, especially with one division having an extra team competing for the third playoff spot.

“Any way you cut it it is going to be unbalanced, partly because of the number of teams,” said Falco. “So I don’t think there is really a perfect solution, but possibly a better solution than what we are trying this year.”

Along with the overhaul has come the use of the Rating Percentage Index. This is an advanced statistics approach of determining seeding in the playoffs that the OUA is borrowing from their counterparts across the border in the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Instead of just using the standings, RPI takes into account the strength of the teams schedules to determine seeding, looking at their results against only other playoff teams. This means that theoretically, a team could finish with more wins than another but if those wins came against non-playoff teams, they would not be taken into account.

One positive coming out of this on the women’s side is the top two teams regardless of location will make it to nationals, something that will give Laurier a better chance, as Windsor has often dominated the West in the women’s game. However, in its infancy, the system is providing more questions than answers and still has some kinks to work out according to Campbell.

“The scheduling has not reflected a need to keep the playing field level … there are a lot of things that probably were not taken into account,” he said.

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