Upsets ruled CIS basketball this year. In evidence of this, CIS men's basketball national championship went to the Brock University Badgers this past weekend. Brock was a good team and played well to beat the Acadia University Axemen in the finals. Here's the rub: both teams in the championship finals for this nation's most prestigious university basketball award lost previously in the CIS playoffs. They were both able to reach the championship tournament because Acadia was awarded a wildcard spot and Brock was the Ontario University Athletics conference bronze medalist. Brock didn't even win the OUA title or even reach their conference finals and they were still given a chance to compete for the W.P. McGee trophy.
The dilemma with the way CIS basketball runs is that it hurts the credibility of the national winner. How can a team that has already lost in the playoffs be taken seriously as the best team in the nation? The concept of wildcard teams and berths to conference finalists gives way to criticism and the danger that no one takes it seriously. If a team cannot win their way to the national championship, do they deserve to be there at all?
If one needed further proof of the problems with current playoff format, all they should do is look at how some other teams made the tournament. The University of Alberta Golden Bears lost in convincing fashion to the University of Calgary Dinos in a best-of-three division playoff series by scores of 87-78 and 90-66 and then came within two points of winning the Canada West championship because they were awarded a wildcard berth. They didn't dominate their division but, thanks to a flawed system, they almost won the Canada West Championship and qualified for the final eight.
Furthermore, can anyone say with 100 per cent certainty that Brock was this nation's top university basketball team when they were the bronze medal winners in the Ontario University Athletics men's basketball playoffs? Probably not. If Acadia had won the game, it would have been an even more ridiculous outcome as they entered the tournament as a wildcard team. Once a team loses in the playoffs, it makes sense that their season should be over. Imagine if the NHL awarded playoff berths in the final eight to wildcard teams.
There was also the problem of who should be awarded wildcard spots. The Brandon University Bobcats were a very good team and were arguably just as deserving of a wildcard spot as Acadia. The format takes away from the teams who actually won their games to qualify and reforming how CIS finds their eight teams can take away the possibility of free passes.
Firstly, the concept of conference championships is flawed because of their current format. People compete in the CIS to win the national championship, not Canada West or OUA titles. Even students want their university to win CIS titles rather than conference titles. Spots in the final eight should be awarded to each division winner. Though there are seven divisions there are enough teams in the OUA to form a third division, making an eighth team. Keeping the division title a best-of-three playoff series means each winner punches their ticket to compete for the W.P. McGee trophy.
There will still be a problem with the seeding, but that can be solved based on regular season records, point differential, head-to-head competition and so on. Abolishing conference winners is a radical idea which would likely be met with a tremendous amount of resistance and teams that participate in larger divisions will face a steeper battle towards the national title. It will, however, give teams more incentive to actually win games. The single-game elimination format of the finals, eight-team tournament will also keep the contest short and maintain people's interest. With these reforms to CIS, the saying "win and you're in" will actually mean something for once.