OUA needs to reconsider its playoff format

Single-game final robs championship of its prestige

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Men's hockey

Joyce Wang

TRIPPING UP WHEN IT COMES TO THE PLAYOFFS. Ontario University Athletics’ playoff system is skating on thin ice. While early round play features best-of-three series, the championship is decided by a single game.

With the men’s hockey playoffs around the corner, it’s important to explore the significance of the race for the Queen’s Cup, as Western is assured the second spot in the Far West division and is matched against the sixth-place Brock Badgers in the first round.

More important than standings, stats, seedings or beards will be the implication of winning a place in the Queen’s Cup game " the provincial championship. In years past, Ontario University Athletics made men’s hockey playoff games “one-and-done.” Leagues evolve, though, and the OUA is no exception. Unfortunately the recent format change is problematic.

Originally, only one berth in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship came from Ontario; this was until the OUA expanded to include teams from Quebec. When Quebec teams joined, they demanded an extra nationals berth. Thus, we have arrived in 2007 with our current format, which doles out two berths for the OUA instead of one.

Shortsighted as this might have been for Quebec teams (there’s no guarantee a Quebec team will make the nationals), it creates even bigger problems. The outcome of this format is that the balance of drama is carried in the Ontario semifinal, since it, not the Queen’s Cup, determines who represents the province at the nationals.

Whether the move was intentional or not, the OUA’s decision has pushed the semifinal’s magnitude past that of the Queen’s Cup.

Has the OUA thus marginalized the importance of the Queen’s Cup with the new format?

I’m not trying to diminish how hard it is to win the OUA championship " the grueling regular season places huge travel demands on kids who are first and foremost students, and who have worries outside hockey. But it’s important to analyze the current format and see it for what it really is: a big joke which demeans the efforts and commitments of student athletes.

There are currently three playoff rounds before the Queen’s Cup. The first three rounds are best-of-three, while the Queen’s Cup is inexplicably a one-game final.

In no other North American sporting league " including the cross-border equivalent NCAA " does an organization committee condense the number of games played for a final from its previous playoff rounds. In fact, this current format diminishes the drama and hype surrounding a championship. This is contrary to the principle of sports playoffs " to build drama as the postseason progresses.

Western assistant coach Cam O’Donnell doesn’t wear his coveted national title ring regularly, saving it for when the ’Stangs actually make the final. This sounds similar to NHL captains refusing to lift their respective conference championship trophies en route to the Stanley Cup final, doesn’t it?

Oddly, the same superstition doesn’t apply to O’Donnell’s Queen’s Cup rings, which you can frequently see him wearing. Why can’t the OUA establish a format worthy of such great sports superstition?

Either way, when a semifinal carries greater importance than the championship, the league isn’t doing its job.

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