Canadian university athletics popularity continues to be stalled

In a perfect world Canadian university athletics has the same popularity among Canadians as the NCAA does with Americans. However, we are far from a perfect world.

The current era of athletes at Canadian institutions is arguably the most talented group we have seen at the post-secondary level in a long time. If there was a time for university athletics to grow and gain attention across the nation, it would be now.

Not only are the athletes talented, the competition from university to university is making the sports worthwhile to watch as programs are beginning to grow across Canada.

Using men’s basketball as an example, this past weekend conferences held their semi-final and finals matchups — 10 of the 16 games were decided by 10 points or less, and none of those games were televised (unless you were a local with Rogers TV or online).

To make things even more interesting, the number three, four and seven ranked teams in the country will miss out on Nationals because only eight teams make it to the tournament. Most people would say this is the first time ever, if not in a long time, that three deserving teams will be left out of the Final 8.

One of the three schools left out is Brock University. Brock men’s basketball is ranked number four in the country and this past weekend came away with a bronze medal in OUA conference play. They were in discussion of receiving the final spot at the National tournament, which is voted on by four coaches — one from each conference — who look at 10 criterias comparing the teams.

However, the conversation is not about who should and shouldn’t have been voted into the tournament for the final spot. What needs to be discussed is how U Sports — the brand/league the university’s play under — can improve its popularity.

Now I’m not writing this because Brock was, what I believe to be, robbed of the nationals. Instead this a conversation that needs to be had.

U Sports was expected to announce the team voted in along with the seedings for all eight teams following the AUS championship game – which concluded just prior to 5:30 p.m. eastern time. The announcement would then come around 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.

The results were leaked by Twitter account @cishoops (no affiliation to U Sports) at 8:51 p.m. The U Sports Twitter handle did not tweet out the news until 10:15 p.m., well after most people who awaited the results had already logged off.

Canadian university sports, basketball specifically, has a decent popularity. It could be even larger with the interest of basketball that has grown across the nation over the last few years with Canadian talent improving and the Toronto Raptors being a top five team in the NBA over the last couple seasons.

However, the way the situation was handled by U Sports will never allow for the brand to gain traction beyond the current following they have.

It was only this past October the league rebranded from CIS to U Sports, changed its logo and had a website change coming. The rebrand was done for two reasons: to allow the name to be recognized the same way in English and French, and to begin growing fans beyond the university community.

To compare to down south, the NCAA has a much larger committee which decides who gets in and at which seed for their 68 team tournament. To make this compelling to fans across the country (including Canada) the NCAA holds what is called ‘Selection Sunday’ show each year to announce the teams that are voted into the tournament.

If there was a time for U Sports to do a similar show it was this year with four teams vying for the final spot. Before the league can even consider that however, they must get their timing down. An announcement past 10:00 p.m., and over an hour after the results are leaked isn’t going to grow popularity.

The Twitter handle @final8HFx, which is the account representing the Final 8 being hosted in Halifax, tweeted saying the committees meeting would begin at 7:00 p.m. U Sports tweeted at 7:47 p.m. saying the meeting was underway.

Now I understand this process needs to be handled seriously and the right decision needs to be made, but that being said, the league needs to have a set timing on this. The fans should be given a set time of when the announcement will be made, like the NCAA whose selection show begins at 6:00 p.m. every year (5:30 p.m. this year).

For a brand and league to build fandom and popularity it must be organized, which U Sports showed on Sunday night they’re not. It was frustrating for the fan base that currently exists.

That being said, the committee should also be held accountable. As it stands right now, the names of the four coaches voting is held anonymous, which is fair. Nonetheless, for fans to truly understand the process they deserve an explanation on the voting decision — why one team over another?

We could argue all day on the decision made by the committee to pick Calgary as the eighth and final team, but at the end of the day it is on U Sports to build the brand. Changing the name and logo every 10 years isn’t going to bring the fans in. Organization and the ability to act as a proper sports business/league is what will get Canadian university athletics to the next level.



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