COLUMN: Wild card wild mess
By Alex Chiang
Being picked for a wild card spot is like being in a crap shoot. Why else would they give the term a Las Vegas ring?
The wild card selection process is gaining a notorious reputation for separating the whiners from those with four-leaf clovers. It's bound to happen when teams are rewarded based on subjectivity and not merit.
In addition to basketball, the CIAU uses wild card berths in hockey, volleyball and field hockey to fill spots in the national tournaments. The problem is there's not enough time to allow the players to come to their own decision on the field, ice or court.
The latest controversy stems from a national panel of men's basketball coaches' decision to choose 10th-ranked Guelph as a wild card entry as opposed to sixth-ranked Memorial. Guelph's addition means that a record-high four of eight teams going to Halifax this weekend will be from Ontario.
Memorial is infuriated, to say the least. The question is, can the panel's selection be justified? Sure, if one argues that Ontario's conference was a very tough draw. For most of the season, there were at least six of the province's teams in the top-10 rankings, of which Western was one.
The rankings are purely subjective, since there is no inter-conference play except in the preseason. It was in exhibition play that Guelph and Memorial met for the only time. The Gryphons proved that they were the better of the two, winning handily 86-58.
Memorial head coach Glenn Taylor tried to brush off the loss by using the excuse that it was the team's fourth game in as many days and that he used mostly bench players in the game.
Sorry Glenn, but I guess you should have thought about that before the game.
Simply put, Western head coach Craig Boydell learned his lesson after the Mustangs were passed over for a wild card spot last season. Boydell stressed the importance of every game, exhibition or not, since he knew the implications they would have.
Memorial finished with a 16-4 record and first in the Atlantic Conference, but that's meaningless come playoff time. The Sea-Hawks couldn't get past the conference semifinals, losing to Acadia. Acadia was then knocked off by St. Francis Xavier to take the Atlantic crown.
The Gryphons, on the other hand, got past their divisional semifinal, beating a talented Western team. Posting a regular season record of 11-3, Guelph has shown an ability to win when it counts, something Memorial failed to do.
CIAU vice-president Mark Lowry told the media that the entire wild card scenario should be scrapped. The problem with that suggestion is that good, deserving teams will miss out.
There exists the possibility to have fewer wild card spots, like in hockey for example, but the problem is the hockey schedule is longer and gives more time to weed the teams out.
The basketball schedule doesn't allow for that, so by giving out a greater number of wild card spots, teams like Western's women basketball team, which had an off-day in the playoffs, can prove it deserved to be there. Sure enough the women did, finishing third in the country.
Our neighbours down south seem to have a similar problem. Many people criticize the NCAA for excluding Michigan from the national tournament.
The bottom line is that not every team can be included and the discretion of the coaches, who know the teams best, should be trusted.