Division decisions

Why the OUA needs to move to two divisions in their leagues

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Queen’s women’s hockey team’s closest opponent, UOIT, is located over 200 kilometres away from Kingston.
Queen’s women’s hockey team’s closest opponent, UOIT, is located over 200 kilometres away from Kingston.

There’s a disturbing lack of consistency within the OUA as to how teams are aligned in different sports.

With last month’s expansion to four divisions in both men’s and women’s basketball, the conference needs to examine how teams in other sports are aligned. There’s no real logic in the geographical set-up for several sports.

For example, the closest women’s hockey teams to Queen’s are the Ottawa Gee-Gees and Carleton Ravens. Despite being OUA members, both of those schools play in Quebec, along with three Montreal-based universities. Neither team competes against the Gaels.

Instead of combining the conferences together and shifting to two geographically-based divisions, the OUA’s single 13-team division remains. This forces women’s hockey to travel more than 200 kilometres to face off with their nearest opponent, UOIT.

In contrast, men’s hockey features UQTR, McGill and Concordia as members of the OUA East division, along with Ottawa and Carleton. There’s no consistency between men’s and women’s hockey like there is in other sports.

As the lack of neighbouring teams impacts Queen’s women’s hockey, the basic divisional structure of their conference fails to make sense.

Women’s hockey is one of four OUA sports to have a single division, joining football, men’s rugby and men’s volleyball. All but rugby have upwards of 10 teams — more than the two-division women’s rugby league.

When a sport has more than one division, interdivisional games are less prevalent. In single division leagues, teams face all their opponents the same number of times, regardless of where the school is situated within the province.

This means less central schools such as Queen’s, Windsor and Nipissing have to travel greater distances than their counterparts. The extra distance not only puts these schools at a competitive disadvantage, but also forces them to pay greater travel costs.

Splitting women’s hockey and men’s volleyball into East and West divisions to alleviate these costs makes sense. It also opens the door for teams to generate new rivalries by facing the same opponents more often.

In cases like this, it doesn’t make sense to keep a single division set-up. If a10-team women’s rugby league is separated into two divisions, why aren’t these larger leagues split as well?

Admittedly, there are concerns that come with the decision to split the OUA based on geographical lines. The conference would run the risk of creating an uneven power dynamic between the two divisions.

This was the case for women’s volleyball, which made the move to two divisions last season. The league’s five best teams were placed in the OUA East and forced to compete for only four playoff spots between them.

Still, this situation happens even in at least one single-division sport. Football teams don’t play every squad in the OUA each year, so there’s the same potential for one team to have an easier trip to the playoffs than a team of equal skill.

The way several OUA sports are currently set up doesn’t work for the athletes, the teams or the athletic programs. Splitting leagues with more than 10 teams benefits all programs involved, and makes a great deal more sense than forcing Queen’s and Windsor to travel across the province every year.

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