The Inside Track ~ March 21, 2011

Last week I took a trip back to my childhood.

Our annual visit to the Metro Centre to watch the Atlantic University Sport Men’s Basketball Championships is something I always looked forward to. I managed to get there for this year’s final game between Acadia University and Dalhousie University. Dal prevailed on the strength of their play and coaching, while taking advantage a poorly played game by Acadia.

No one expected Acadia to make it there anyway. They snuck into the six-team playoffs with two wins in the final weekend of the regular season, finishing with a seven and 13 win/loss record. They went on to knock off 19 and one Cape Breton, who were ranked fifth nationally, in the semifinals before their loss in the final. Dalhousie has never consistently been among the best teams in the Atlantic Conference but has built a very likable and respectable program over a foundation of outstanding coaching.

I grew up watching university sports. Basically since I was an infant I’ve been going to Acadia University games in my hometown of Wolfville, N.S., particularly basketball.

As I got older, I progressed from falling asleep in the middle of the championship game as a five-year-old, to running freely under the bleachers all game long as a eight-year- old, to sitting in the stands captivated by the game.

It became an even more enjoyable experience when my oldest brother played guard for Acadia from 2003 to 2007.

Every game instantly became more important and exciting. It brought the pride I have for my brother and my love of sports closer together. I felt a connection to the team beyond what you could cultivate out of loyalty for a city a team plays in or an admiration for its players, often the method many acquire a designated “favourite team.” I knew what to expect from every player, what their abilities were, and what the team was capable as a whole.

I’ve never felt so happy for a win when Acadia won the Atlantic championship in 2007 over Saint Mary’s. I’ve never felt so bad after a loss when Acadia fell to Brock University in the national title game in 2008.

Yes, I am aware of the fact I’m expressing my love for another school’s team in STU’s student newspaper. Also note that STU and Acadia don’t play in the same league, i.e. Acadia in the higher division and STU in the lower of the two.

But, I think what I’ve witnessed is important background to highlighting the undervalued world of university sports in Canada. If you’re a basketball fan, how can you not enjoy the experience of watching university teams?

None of them are going to the pros and they know that, but they are there to work and make the most of their four or five years. It’s not about the individual players, it’s generally a very team-centred brand of basketball. With such a constant turnover of players from year-to-year, there’s always fresh faces and new talent in the mix. This makes it’s even more difficult for teams to maintain continuity and success having to adjust and build team trust every season.

Given the task of adjusting and attracting new players out of high school every year, it’s impressive when teams stay among the elite for several consecutive seasons.

The Carleton Ravens have quite possibly become the most dominate dynasty in Canadian Inter-university Sport [CIS] history. Last weekend, they captured their seventh national championship in nine years. The Carleton run rivals the string of seven titles in a row by University of Victoria from ’79 to ’86.

The CIS national championship tournament returned to Halifax this March after a three

stint in Ottawa. Before that, Halifax had hosted the event for 24 years straight earning

the title of [unofficial] basketball capital of Canada.

The event comes up for potential hosting bids every two years. The tournament demonstrated considerable success becoming the CIS’s highest attended national championship tournament of any sport, and with that, the one to generate the most revenue.

It turned out that Ottawa couldn’t emulate Halifax’s success. They hosted the tournament in Scotiabank Place, the usual home of the Ottawa Senators, located in the suburb of Kanata, a $60 cab ride from downtown Ottawa.

So the tournament returned to Halifax after Ottawa didn’t even submit a bid to renew hosting duties.

Setting aside the venue for the tournament, it’s unfortunate that Canadian university basketball doesn’t receive the attention and hype it deserves. The players may be generally less talented then their American college counterparts, but the product is just as exciting. But maybe it just gets lost among more established sporting events and our obsession with all things hockey.


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