Too late for change

New CIS title structure should’ve already existed

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The CIS added two additional teams to both their men’s and women’s hockey national championships.
The CIS added two additional teams to both their men’s and women’s hockey national championships.
Credit: 
Graphic by Michaella Fortune

Starting this year, Ontario hockey programs will be better represented at the national level — a change that should have happened already.

Last month, the CIS announced a restructuring of the annual men’s and women’s hockey national championships. Both tournaments have been increased to eight teams from six, and additional automatic berths have been granted to certain conferences.

The OUA will now have at least two teams in the women’s tournament every year, up from one in previous seasons. In the men’s championship, the OUA East and West division champions will get automatic berths, with a third being granted on a rotational basis with schools in Western and Atlantic Canada.

The changes give Ontario schools a better chance of garnering national recognition, but they’re no consolation to Queen’s. The Gaels women’s hockey team would have been the beneficiary of the additional OUA berth last season.

There’s no reason the changes couldn’t have been made before. In comparison to the other conferences, the size of the OUA makes it clear more berths needed to be granted.

In men’s hockey, 20 of the 36 CIS programs belong to the OUA — including three Quebec-based schools — while nearly 40 per cent of women’s programs are in the conference.

A greater percentage of the overall teams in the country should merit a greater percentage of teams at nationals. Last season, only the provincial champion Laurier Golden Hawks represented the OUA in the women’s tournament.

Since an extra berth was granted to the previous year’s CIS champion, two of the five RSEQ teams qualified for nationals. That shouldn’t have been the case.

There’s no RSEQ in men’s hockey, so the eight-team national tournament will see every conference get multiple spots. This change should bring about a larger sense of parity within divisions; the additional recognition of reaching nationals will prove valuable for programs that may not have had the opportunity.

Under the previous system, if one team was the dominant presence in their conference, other schools wouldn’t get the chance to build their programs through CIS championship appearances.

For example, Laurier has captured 9 of the last 11 OUA women’s titles, denying other squads the opportunity to benefit from the championship effect and enhanced national profile. Due in part to this, parity isn’t completely obtainable within conferences.

Right now, there are still distinctions between OUA teams based on their strength in recent years. Queen’s still lags behind McGill and UQTR on the men’s side, but the Gaels are a provincial force alongside Laurier in the women’s game.

Had these structural changes been put in place earlier, there would be less need for major upsets to take place to create better programs. Additional berths to nationals provide experience for players and create more opportunities for recruits to see schools.

While the CIS has improved the state of university hockey, the lack of movement prior to this year has negatively impacted programs in Ontario. It could have been bolstered if these moves were made earlier.

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