The rich get richer

Academic and monetary benefits keep top teams dominant

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The Gaels have lost their last three meetings to the Western Mustangs by a combined score of 144-65.
The Gaels have lost their last three meetings to the Western Mustangs by a combined score of 144-65.
Photo: 
The Gaels racked up 52 points against the York Lions when the two teams played last season. Queen’s has never lost to York and hosts them in this year’s Homecoming game on Oct. 18.
The Gaels racked up 52 points against the York Lions when the two teams played last season. Queen’s has never lost to York and hosts them in this year’s Homecoming game on Oct. 18.

There’s a parity problem in OUA football and not much can be done about it.

Last weekend, all five of the conference’s football games were won by 20 or more points, including the Toronto Varsity Blues’ 70-0 shellacking of the York Lions. The week before, York lost 61-0 to a Western Mustangs squad that sat several starters in the fourth quarter.

That same weekend, the Waterloo Warriors lost to the McMaster Marauders 66-0. It’s a pattern that’s been repeated, not just against York and Waterloo, but throughout the league.

Since 1998, Western and McMaster have captured a combined 11 Yates Cup titles, with only Queen’s joining those schools in winning a title since 2007. Even Queen’s has fallen behind schools like Western, who have outscored the Gaels 144-65 over their last three meetings.

There’s a clear divide between the haves and have-nots in the 11-member league, but suggesting that monetary spending from larger schools is the cause doesn’t tell the whole story.

While Western, McMaster, Queen’s and the Guelph Gryphons have dominated the OUA over the past four seasons due in part to their ability to finance their teams, there’s an additional academic aspect to their success.

In Canadian university sports, the scholastic reputation of a university is just as, if not more important, than the athletic component. On-field success begets success, but giving players the promise of a better degree also helps keep certain schools competitive.

The big four teams in the OUA right now have an advantage over schools such as York or Windsor, since the universities they represent are considered to be above-average academic institutions. Not all degrees are created equal, and schools like Western can gather talent based on this fact.

On the flip side of this are schools such as Toronto or Waterloo, where the grades needed to attend are higher, limiting the amount of talent the football team can bring in. A lack of talent is a major reason the Varsity Blues have only finished .500 once since 1994.

Waterloo has the additional struggle of rebuilding after scuttling their 2010 season due to a steroid scandal that saw several potential recruits — including Gaels quarterback Billy McPhee — head elsewhere.

In comparison, Western’s unique position as both a consistent football powerhouse and academic giant has given the Mustangs the opportunity to become an OUA juggernaut.

The only way have-not programs can compete with upper-echelon teams is to adopt a privatized funding model akin to the Laval Rouge et Or. That’s what the Carleton Ravens are doing with the football team they revived two years ago.

The Ravens are run by a non-profit company independent of Carleton. Increased funding for programs whose school doesn’t have the same academic reputation of the top teams will allow them to close the gap.

The Laval method works; the Rouge et Or have captured eight Vanier Cups since the program’s inception in 1996. The Ravens’ hopes of catching up to schools like Queen’s hinges on their ability to replicate Laval’s success.

That said, the added role academics play in the OUA makes it unlikely Laval’s methods will carry over to Ontario. Even if it does, schools like Queen’s and Western have the history and alumni base to fund their teams in a manner similar to Carleton.

The divide between schools is growing every season, and as it does, there’s no way to stop it from happening.

The big four of Western, Queen’s, McMaster and Guelph will battle each other for the Yates Cup year in and year out, while everyone else will be playing for fifth place.

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