Sunday, January 15, 2012

Wellsie's World: Unique CIS Takes from Dave Wells


The first in what we truly hope is an ongoing series of entries from Dave Wells, who has been an integral part of Canadian basketball for almost 40 years.  Presently located in Lethbridge, Wellsie brings a unique candor and experienced set of insights to the CIS game.  We all look forward to continued columns from Wellsie.

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In terms of ongoing Canada West game-related info there is no way I could even begin to remotely approach the level of coverage being provided by former University of Calgary player (starter on a team that finished second in the CIAU), assistant coach and interim head coach Wayne Thomas on this site. It’s remarkable. Truly!
So, what I’ll do in this space is offer some random observations in point form from my beloved hometown of Lethbridge. (For me, Lethbridge is the best place in the world; Barbados, where my mom is from, comes second; the GTA is third. Not sure there is a fourth.)
* The biggest issue facing Canada West, and indeed CIS men’s basketball as a whole, is finding ways to earn more fabulous moolah (yeah, I’m a pro wrestling guy.) I know schools are working hard to enhance visibility (one awesome addition to the league this year has been www.canadawest.tv which shows every regular season and post-season game on the web. Overall www.canadawest.org does a comprehensive job providing a wide array of cyber content too), however much more needs to be done. Frankly, after helping promote an array of well-attended sporting events over the years, I don’t believe in going the free admission route either. Often, if you tell fans your product isn’t worth an admission fee, they’ll believe it isn’t worth watching period.
* Attendance (or lack of same) puzzles me in many Canada West locations. Perhaps the two I’m most frustrated with are Manitoba and Fraser Valley. Certainly, the Kirby Schepp and Barnaby Craddock-led crews deserve average crowd gatherings of over 300? On the other end of the spectrum I see on the Canada West site Alberta (1,195) and Lethbridge (1,064) top the average home attendance lists. I hope, and actually expect, Lethbridge’s numbers to rise after this weekend when Calgary comes to town for a twin-bill.
* The brand new Saville Centre (originally called the Go Centre) at Alberta is a very nice basketball playing venue, seating about 2,800, quite equally divided between individual chair and bleacher bench seating. It is an absolutely amazing training/club/practice/tournament facility! Twelve hoop games can be held at the same time.
* One issue that has been up for discussion in Canada West men’s hoop this season is whether the league should adopt the same import quotas as the rest of CIS (currently amax of three), or continue with self-imposed tougher standards (two non-Canadian citizens or landed immigrants.) This is a passionate debate.
* Northern British Columbia and Mount Royal join Canada West next year. That will bring the total number of basketball-playing institutions to 16. There have been ongoing discussions as to format and structure. To me 16 is workable, with either two, or four divisions.
* However, I have heard credible rumours Edmonton Grant MacEwan is preparing to apply to Canada West. As well, Nanaimo’s Vancouver Island University have applied in the past. At what point would Canada West basketball become too unwieldy? From a basketball perspective the league – with significantly fewer members - was split in two for decades (into Great Plains and Canada West.) Alas, a subsequent split is much bigger than basketball-specific. Two sports cost much more than basketball at the CIS level; football and hockey. It’s hard to see a need for two university football conferences west of Ontario (there are six programs now) and even growing hockey to that extent (seven programs now) is highly unlikely. As well, the rest of the CIS would have to agree to Canada West being split in two when it comes to national tournament berths.
* I can’t see “tiering” any time soon in the CIS. Heck, the CIS just isn’t that big – and the country is. British Columbia and Alberta governments expanded the number of potential CIS potential institutions out here on their own. The big schools out here can’t expect the rest of the country to bend to their will because of that.
* Kudos to UBC for staying CIS. I saw potential benefits if UBC were absolutely serious about expanding their athletic budget exponentially and going NCAA DI, but when that door was closed, on the whole – and particularly in football and men’s basketball – NCAA DII made no sense to me whatsoever. I believe pressure from UBC grad (and former CFL commissioner) Doug Mitchell likely played a large role in UBC staying in the CIS. Want just one example of where UBC made a good move? Well, look at the Vanier Cup this past November in Vancouver. The announced attendance was 24,953. Does anyone really believe any NCAA DII sporting event will ever draw 20 percent of that mark in the Lower Mainland?
* Having said that I think it’s past time the CIS men’s national basketball championship is held in Vancouver. Why, I believe there’s a suitable venue right on campus. It’s called The Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre!
* I really do feel Simon Fraser would be better off from a men’s basketball perspective returning to CIS. Part of me wants to list off a bunch of reasons here, but I’ve already trundled on-and-on in this space. Perhaps in a later missive.
* And finally, although not directly related to Canada West, here’s a rhetorical question. When they came out of high school Carleton’s Phil Scrubb, was considered a similar level of player by many knowledgeable folks to Julian Clarke (who is at Santa Clara) and Emerson Murray (playing for Cal.) Now, which of the three similar height guards do you think has developed more – especially in terms of eventual hoop earning potential – in their first two years out of high school? One potential reason. I believe Scrubb has received likely twice as many hours of coaching from the Carleton staff. NCAA really restricts the time their staffs work with kids, especially out of season. (Well, the Carleton season seemingly never ends eh…)

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