Saturday, 10 October 2009

More on AUS tournament from Chris Cochrane

Chris's columns are always insightful and thought-provoking. He is clearly a strong supporter of CIS basketball and in this column he takes a "glass-half-full" view of the recent news that the AUS tournament will be played in Cape Breton at the end of this season.

Tourney move can be a plus

CHANGE isn’t always easy.

But for AUS basketball fans accustomed to the conference men’s championship tournament being an exclusively Halifax-hosted event for the past 28 years, change is definitely coming.

Thursday’s announcement that the 2010 AUS Final 6 will be held at Sydney’s Centre 200 didn’t surprise anyone. With a Canadian curling championship taking over the Metro Centre for the usual Final 6 March dates, a new site was needed.

Since past Final 6 experiences at the Halifax Forum, the only other building in the city large enough for the event, hadn’t been as positive or profitable as AUS brass had hoped, the AUS was open to offers from other university centres.

Given that scenario, it makes sense to move the next tournament to Sydney’s Centre 200. With a capacity of 5,500 for basketball, Centre 200 is an ideal option for an event that attracts about 15,000 fans over its three days of operation.

Financially, it’s much the same deal at Centre 200 as it was at Metro Centre. A projection of net income, in the $70,000 range from the tournament in Sydney, is right in line with what the event has annually brought for AUS coffers.

The downside of the move is that many of the fans in Halifax, who loyally supported the Final 6 for so long, probably won’t be able to watch the next event live. But that simply puts them in the same position as fans across the AUS region that weren’t able to make the trip to Halifax for the past 28 years.

The real significance of the move to Sydney is that the AUS has finally decided that the Final 6 doesn’t have to be an exclusively Halifax-hosted tournament.

Should Sydney do the top notch hosting job that most expect, it becomes an obvious candidate to host more than a single Final 6 event. Several university towns in New Brunswick also have arenas large enough to meet the criteria to be realistic choices for Final 6 hosting honours. Once it’s proven that other sites, aside from Halifax, can do the Final 6 job expect the field of potential hosts to increase.

The availability of at least a second strong hosting venue, and maybe others, will become more important when the Final 8 CIS nationals return to Halifax in 2011.

In all those years when the Final 8 and Final 6 were hosted in Halifax, the local tournament often didn’t get its just due because of the hustle and bustle to present the national event the following weekend.

Despite being overshadowed by the Final 8, the Final 6 in many ways has been a more fan friendly tournament. Compared to the Final 8, where the two finalists were often out-of-conference teams, the Final 6 has the advantage of familiarity. The Final 6 field is stacked with AUS players well known by local fans, the story lines carry over from the regular season and all the contending teams have their own private cheering sections.

By the time the Final 8 returns to Halifax in 2011, for what most expect will become another long run at Metro Centre, expect the AUS to have a realistic option of keeping the Final 6 in Halifax or moving it to other AUS centres.

The scenario that shoved the Final 6 out of its comfortable home for this one season — forcing it to prove whether or not it can work well in other markets — could end up being a huge plus for the AUS.


Chris Cochrane is a columnist with The Chronicle Herald sports.

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