While American college basketball fans are getting their kicks watching Valparaiso make a run for the Final Four, Western followers have nothing to cheer about.
Sunday's announcement that Alberta and McMaster would be going to the Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union championship as wild card teams, leaving Western out in the cold, added yet another chapter in the encyclopedic volume on the politics of sport.
The OUA West (Western's conference) was competitive throughout. Coaches in other conferences, however, refuse to acknowledge this and would take any means at their disposal to give too much credit to one region of the country.
In light of the mathematical facts, the Mustangs, not the Golden Bears, should be headed to Halifax.
Western had a better win percentage, played in a tougher conference (with more nationally-ranked teams than anywhere else) and most importantly, the Mustangs had a higher rating-performance index (RPI) ranking.
The RPI is the only real mathematical method to determine the strength of a team's performance in any given season. It is not subjective, nor is it influenced by the bias which comes with a coach or media poll. It takes into consideration the difficulty of each team's schedule.
Western had a difficult schedule this season, yet they lost only five games all season and finished with a 22-5 record. This showed on the RPI, which had Western ranked second behind McMaster. Alberta fell well short of Western in this respect, posting a 24-11 record and placing them 10th in the RPI.
Furthermore, Alberta played only four games against teams outside of the Canada West conference, posting a 3-1 record. It is the out-of-conference games that truly test how a team stacks up nationally. Western, on the other hand, held a 11-3 record including wins over nationally-ranked Laurentian and Guelph.
Unfortunately, the RPI is not as significant as national representation which, to sports fans, is like sitting in a bleacher seat covered in sticky old Coke and beer nuts.
Mike Havey, president of the CIAU tournament selection committee, said the committee tried to be more objective in their approach this year. Meanwhile, Saskatchewan head coach Steve Roth said he believes the Canada West (Alberta's territory) was the best conference in the country this season, but offered no convincing objective argument other than to say Western should have beaten Waterloo at the provincials to deserve a wild card berth.
For the benefit of fans, sports should be decided by mathematics and not geographics. And while the Waterloo loss was only a small blemish on Western's résumé, it will make this weekend's CIAU championship less exciting because one of the best teams in the country was left out.