Canada West Basketball Conference Realignment – Good or Bad?

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Conference realignment is a tricky issue, both the NBA and the NHL have been forced to consider the idea of changing which teams play against each other during the season over the past couple years.

It is an issue that has affected the Canada West division of the CIS for all their basketball teams.

This upcoming 2014-2015 season will be the first where the proposed realignment that was voted upon will come into effect.

The formerly known Pacific and Prairie divisions are no more, and the new Pioneer and Explorer divisions blur the border lines between BC and the prairie teams.

The new conferences are no longer structured based on borders and instead, now more so based on length of time each respective team has been in the CIS.

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Teams like the University of Victoria Vikings and the University of Alberta Golden Bears were, up until this year, in opposing divisions, but with the realignment they are now in the same division vying for a limited number of playoff spots.

The discrepancy in the two divisions is something that is apparent to anybody that watches Canada West basketball; aside from the fact that one division has eleven teams and the other has only six.

All three teams that qualified for nationals at the end of last year’s Canada West playoffs (UVic, UofA, and USask) are now all in the same division.

Out of the top four teams in the Canada West, only one comes from the new Explorer division that being the University of the Fraser Valley Cascades.

Although a single game has yet to be played under these new divisions, the league has already started the process to vote on perhaps going back to the old system at the end of this year.

The temporary switch to the new system did cause some controversy near the end of the winter 2014 semester in Kamloops.

Four Thompson Rivers University players decided to leave the team in March of this year;  two of the players told the Kamloops newspaper, Kamloops This Week “weakened conference competition was among their reasons.”

Troy Grant was one of these players that decided to leave the WolfPack he stated in the same article, “The Canada West is splitting into two divisions. We are in the weaker division.”

Ta’Quan Zimmerman one of the best players in Canada West basketball last year also left the team and agreed with Grant saying “The competition, our conference competition, will be a little weaker and that’s really not going to benefit me…in the long run.”

A list of different schools were contacted for comment on conference realignment, however only Thompson Rivers Head Coach Scott Clark responded, saying “the league will be changing either next year or the following,” adding that there was no need to comment further on the issue.

The original switch to this new format was made because it gave fans of CIS basketball on the west coast a better opportunity to see the powerhouse teams play each other more often and perhaps lead to more exciting games.

The possibility of a team going undefeated in league play is extremely low now, especially if that team plays in the pioneers division and will play three teams that finished last season in the top ten (Saskatchewan tenth, Victoria fourth, and Alberta third).

It is also worth mentioning that the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds are believed to be very good this year, rebounding after a tough season last year. It is in this more entertaining schedule that people can make the argument that this new format will benefit Canada West basketball.

The realignment will put the smaller schools into a tough position for the future; schools like UFV, TRU, UNBC, and even Mount Royal will have to try so much harder to get recognition nationally.

The University of Fraser Valley was the only top four team from the Canada West division and won sixteen straight games last year. UFV was red hot prior to losing bad to the University of Victoria Vikings in the playoff semi-final and then contending with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in the bronze medal game only to lose by nine, 79-70.

It seems almost unjust that some schools have been sub-par in recent years like the University of Manitoba (6-16 last year) and the University of Regina (5-15 last year) but will still get the benefit of the doubt and then have the opportunity to contend in the stronger division.

The realignment also affects the playoff system.

The larger Pioneers division (Alberta, Brandon, Calgary, Lethbridge, Manitoba, Regina, Saskatchewan, Trinity Western, UBC, Victoria, and Winnipeg) is set to get seven playoff berths with 5, 6, and 7 playing in a best of three series.

The smaller Explorers division (MacEwan, Mount Royal, Thompson Rivers, UBC-Okanagan, UFV, and UNBC) will get three playoff berths with the third getting to play in the best of three series against the 5, 6, and 7 seeds in the pioneer division.

With the Canada West basketball season tipping off this week, it is likely that the conference realignment issue will be put on the back burner until the season is at the least in its playoff stages.

However, the question will remain all season on whether or not the realignment is good for the growth of CIS basketball on the west coast and whether or not it does in fact make it more entertaining.

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