Saturday, November 21, 2009

Queen's win shows the need for an NCAA playoff

This year in CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) football has seen some crazy games. The Ontario playoffs in particular have been excellent, and the Queen's Golden Gaels emerged as Yates Cup champions with wins over the McMaster Marauders and the Western Mustangs. Today, they knocked off the Laval Rouge et Or 33-30 (see my friend and former Queen's Journal colleague Mike Woods' CP story here) to advance to the Vanier Cup, the Canadian university championship. There, they'll take on the University of Calgary Dinos, who demolished the Saint Mary's Huskies 38-14 in the Uteck Bowl earlier today.

In the wake of the Queen's game, Canwest News Service's Peter James made an interesting remark that served as the inspiration for this post. Tongue-in-cheek, he tweeted, "BCS supporters can point to the #CIS to show why their system works. Queen's upset prevented at No. 1 vs. No 2 Vanier Cup."

That's true, as Laval ranked first and Calgary ranked second in the final UFRC-CIS poll of the season. Queen's was fourth. Personally, I had Queen's as the top team in every week after Laval's surprising loss to Montreal, as the Gaels never lost a meaningful game (their sole loss came in the regular-season finale after they'd already locked up the top playoff berth), and I predicted last night on Norman James' radio show that I saw them winning by a field goal thanks to their ability to dominate the trench fights. However, I was very much in the minority; most saw this as an easy Laval win, and figured it would be a victory for Queen's just to keep it close. There's no way Queen's would have been selected for the title game if the CIS used any sort of BCS ranking system.

To me, what this shows is how desperately the NCAA needs a playoff system. Last week's Yates Cup against Western and this week's Queen's-Laval game have been two of the better football games I've seen at any level. Things are so close at the top of the CIS that any team can win on any given Saturday. To me, it makes zero sense to rely on a system of polls, no matter how elaborate. It's the results on the field that matter, and the unpredictability of football means anything can happen; last year, for example, 8-0 Queen's was upset in their first playoff game by the 4-4 University of Ottawa Gee-Gees. We see that south of the border as well, especially in the Pac-10 this year, where the top teams are all tightly bunched and the bottom teams aren't far beneath them.

Most of the time in North American culture, successful developments come from the U.S. and are transmitted north to Canada, often much later. As Robin Scherbatsky remarked in How I Met Your Mother's "Slap Bet" episode (one of my favourites), "The 80's didn't come to Canada till, like '93". That explains this video:

However, in football, it's often been a different story. The CFL proved to be the spawning ground for passing-oriented offences, which have since taken over the NCAA and the NFL to a degree. Guys like Warren Moon and Doug Flutie weren't intially given chances in the NFL thanks to being too black or too short to play quarterback; they came to the CFL, excelled, and forced the NFL to innovate. I suggest that the NCAA should follow this trend and take a page from the CIS playbook. It wouldn't even be that hard to use a somewhat similar system, as most of the major conferences already have championship games; take the winners of those games, figure out a good way to add a couple of at-large berths and run a three-week, eight-team playoff. There would still be issues around which teams were selected for the playoffs, but you wouldn't likely have the status quo where teams can win every game and still come up short. Championships should be decided on the field, not by voters or computers, and the NCAA should take a page from the CIS playbook on this one.


  1. Someone dialled us the same frequency, Andrew: I was telling people if Queen's won, it would likely be by a field goal, 34-31, 30-27, somewhere in there.

  2. Chuck Klosterman gave an interview last week where he said just go back to the old way, where Big Ten always played Pac-10 and so forth. Not sure if he was being earnest or sarcastic. Where would a great Mountain West or WAC team such as Texas Christian or Boise State go? The International Bowl?!