November 15, 2006

It's more than just Grey Cup weekend

As I mentioned in my introduction post, I have closely followed CIS (Canadian university) football for some time. Although I do not intend to provide much comment on that sport here, I thought it would be appropriate to give mention this week, heading into the two national semi-final games. Besides, I could argue, outside of curling, CIS football could be the most watched amateur sport in the country (there will be more than 20,000 people at the two games this weekend and they will likely be watched by about 150,000 people on television.

The Uteck Bowl, played annually in the eastern most location of a Bowl game, pits the Laval Rouge et Or against the Acadia Axemen in Ste. Foy, Que.. Laval is the heavy favourite, having defeated Acadian 34-7 earlier in the year. Additionally, the Atlantic league went 1-7 in inter-league competition against the Quebec loop this season.

For those unfamiliar with CIS football, Laval operates off of a unique private-public partnership model. What that means is that the institution does not cover the operating costs of the football program. Instead, the football team is run by a private investor. As a result, Laval is able to spend a great deal more than most other programs in the country. It’s been successful. Laval captured the national championship in 1999, 2003 and 2004 It’s successful off-the-field as well, attracting about 18,000 fans per game.

It’s success has spurred three other football programs ( University of Regina Rams, University de Montreal Carabins and University de Sherbrooke Vert et Or ) and a hockey program ( Lakehead University Thunderwolves) that operate off of a simular model.

It isn’t without controversy. There are many people who feel that programs in the hands of private investors are more likely to circumvent CIS rules, particularly as they relate to academic requirements. However, there are others who point out that the model allows schools who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford certain sports the opportunity to participate in those sports. It also, supporters say, generates revenue, which can be used to help smaller profile sports at the institution.

It’s an intriguing debate with wide-reaching ramifications.

The other match-up, the Mitchell Bowl, takes place in Ottawa and features the University of Ottawa against the University of Saskatchewan.

Throughout the last decade, Saskatchewan has consistently been a contender for the national championship. The Huskies play host to the Vanier Cup this year in Saskatoon, so the pressure is on to ensure that their is a home team in the big game.

The biggest question with Ottawa has to do with the league it plays in. Prior to last year’s win by Wilfrid Laurier, it had been 11 years since an OUA team had captured the Vanier Cup. Actually, Ontario is 3-10 in its last 13 playoff games against out-of-province competition. The likely reason for the poor record is that Ontario has traditionally offered less scholarship money to its athletes and has recruited fewer players with junior football experience (who are therefore older).

There is a school of thought that suggests that WLU’s win in ‘05 was a one-off thing and that Ontario is still far behind the rest of the country. Many people are unwilling to consider Ottawa on the same level as the nation’s other top ranked programs until they beat a team from outside the province.

Both games go Saturday. For more information than you will ever need go here

November 09, 2006

A Pipe Dream

In Canada, if you don’t deliver in 21 years, you’re out of luck. We’re tough that way.

Such was the case with Kevin Pipe, relived from his duties as Chief Operating Officer of the CSA last week. The interesting thing about this isn’t that Pipe was let go--he was more or less seen as the devil by the few people in this country who actually care about the sport domestically.

No, what’s amazing is that the bloated, bickering, not-interested-in-anything-unless-it-benefits-themselves bureaucracy that runs Canadian soccer actually had the gumption to do something.

During the 21 years that Pipe ran things, soccer grew from a niche sport played by the children of immigrants, to something much bigger. As you likely have heard, there are more people registered in soccer in Canada that there are people registered in hockey (a misleading statistic and a topic for another day).

However, the performance of the Canadian national team went from playing in the World Cup, to being ranked a bit behind Oman in the men’s ranking (Women’s soccer is doing much better, but Canada’s performance has slipped there in recent years as well).

Despite that freefall, Pipe remained. During the last two decades, if pressed, he would talk about the participation rates and would lament the lack of investment in the game by corporate Canada. He--and thre CSA--rarely took any blame him/themselves.

So, you can understand how stunned people were when Pipe’s firing was announced. “No,” people said, “The CSA can’t be looking in the mirror, can it?”

It’s hard to say, but it is clear that something had to give. The purpose of an organization like the CSA is to produce, develop and foster elite teams. The failure of the men’s national team to qualify for the World Cup during a time when the participation rates in the sport was skyrocketing is, if not unacceptable, then at least exceptionally hard to understand.

And make no mistake. Making a World Cup would benefit everyone, from the four-year-olds chasing butterflies on your neighbourhood pitch, to the elite kid looking to play at a high-level without having to leave the country.

Is firing Kevin Pipe the magic bullet? No, but bringing in a fresh face is a start.

That is if the CSA is interested in a truly fresh face. That's not something that should be taken for granted.

This is a story that we will be keeping an eye on.

November 07, 2006

A new voice

Like many readers of Now That's Amateur I had ambivalent feelings when I saw that its author had taken a new position with the COA. I was thrilled that the COA had hired someone so clearly passionate about amateur sport for such an important role, but I was disappointed that the great resource that is Now That's Amateur could potentially be lost.

In Canada, the amateur athlete is too often overlooked. With the MSM seemingly more interested in covering Tie Domi's sex life, it's up to sites like Now That's Amateur to pick up the slack. When I saw that the site may have to be put on hiatus, I was compelled to offer my assistance.

And Now That's Amateur was crazy enough to take me up on my offer.

My name is Duane Rollins and I am a journalist. I currently am the news editor at a weekly newspaper in SW Ont., but I'm better known (relatively speaking) as the CIS football guy. I publish the website, the only news source in Canada dedicated to covering university football in Canada, year round (please forgive the look of the place, it's currently undergoing some renovations and is being housed on a very basic blog skin in the meantime).

I won't bore you with all the things we have accomplished with CollegeColours, but it has taught me a great deal about covering a "niche" sport in this country. I hope to bring some of that knowledge here.

To be clear, I'm not taking over. I'm just helping out. I invite you to visit often as we endeavour to provide you with the same high-quality coverage of Canadian amateur sport as you have come to expect from Now That's Amateur.