There's an interesting piece from Ian Hamilton in the Regina Leader-Post today. Hamilton talks to Regina Rams head coach Frank McCrystal and comes away with a couple of valuable notes. First, he addresses the new Canada West schedule. In the wake of SFU's departure, the conference is down to six teams, which could provide an opportunity to balance the schedule for everyone. That's something McCrystal would like to see.
"We put all this time and money and effort into the football program, so let's play more games," he told Hamilton. "We should be playing 10 games. We should be playing everybody twice."
This might be worth looking at. Currently, the conference plays eight regular-season games, and that hasn't changed thanks to SFU's departure. At the moment, the Rams get Saskatchewan, Calgary and Manitoba twice each, face UBC on the road and host Alberta. I'm not sure if that's "easily the toughest schedule in the CIS" as McCrystal calls it, but it is reasonably difficult; Saskatchewan and Calgary should both be strong, and a road game against UBC isn't easy thanks to the travel involved. Meanwhile, for example, UBC only plays Calgary once and Manitoba faces Saskatchewan once.
That's not saying the schedule is especially unfair; from this viewpoint, it looks like the schedulemakers did a pretty good job given the constraints of each team playing eight games in a six-team league. It's just that a eight-game schedule with five opponents is obviously going to give some teams an easier path. In a league where it looks like the competition for the third and fourth playoff spots might be particularly tough, that could make a difference.
The question is if a solution can be found, though. Eliminating the conference bye weekend (Oct 8-10) and scheduling a game there would provide one of the two extra games, but that would also kill the Shrum Bowl, which would be unfortunate. Even if the conference went that way, however, they'd still have to find a spot for an extra game. The playoffs are scheduled to start on November 6, and that can't be bumped any later without altering the entire CIS playoff schedule.
At the other end, the Canada West season is set to start September 3, which is alreay one of the earliest starts nationally. Last year, Canada West did play one regular-season game on August 29 (UBC-SFU) before starting up fully on September 4, so adding the last game on the last weekend in August might not be completely out of the question. Keep in mind that few students are around then, though, which would hurt attendance and game atmosphere. That weekend also traditionally sees out-of-conference exhibition games, which I would argue can help teams across CIS sports by exposing them to high levels of competition and different styles of play. If Canada West wanted to play 10 games but still keep those exhibitions going, they'd have to be bumped up to the second-to-last week in August, and that might be a difficult sell for university officials (more required of student-athletes, summer practices would probably have to start even earlier) and out-of-conference coaches (an exhibition game two weeks before your season starts might not be as helpful as the current practice of having one the week before, and it might also force you to start your own practices earlier).
On that note, the piece also mentions that "the Rams have been in touch with the Queen's Golden Gaels about a possible pre-season game." This would be interesting to see, as Queen's hasn't played a Canada West team in preseason competition in a while (they faced McGill in 2008 and U of T in 2009). However, the reigning Vanier Cup champions might be looking for a little more in an opponent than a Regina team that went 3-5 in the regular season last year and got knocked out in the first round of the Canada West playoffs. We'll see what happens there. On the schedule front, though, it would be nice to see balance, but it doesn't seem likely to happen without a radical consensus from Canada West coaches and administrators and possibly national changes as well.
[Cross-posted to The CIS Blog]