CIS: Canada West Expansion

 Photo: canadawest.org

Photo: canadawest.org

In 2014 Grant MacEwan University will join the Canada West conference in multiple sports, including volleyball. This will stretch the ever-growing conference from 9 teams in 2004 to 13.  For the past 25 years (if not longer) every other conference in Canada has envied the Canada West volleyball league.  For the first time since the 1993-94 season and only the fourth time since 1974-75, a team outside of the Canada West won the CIS championship.  This may be an indication of the improvement of the RSEQ and OUA or rather the regression of the Canada West.  The Canada West conference has shown a slow falling off in results may be stepping back, due in part to a dilution of a talent from a conference that would regularly take home multiple medals from nationals.

As was finalized by the Canada West and their Sports Committee, Volleyball in the Canada West will remain a single division sport with each team playing 24 games (12 home and 12 away).  There was discussion of splitting into two divisions but the geography of the teams in Volleyball likely brought the biggest problem for that schedule.  Dividing into two divisions would split the province of Alberta’s teams in half taking away historical or cross town rivalries. 

I cannot guess why the Canada West wants to continue to add teams and expanding, especially into cities that already have teams.  Bringing in both Grant MacEwan and Mount Royal not only stretches the talent pool further, but it is also removes the development opportunity for fringe athletes who need high quality programs to help them develop in the CCAA. 

 The 2012-2013 Canada West Men's Volleyball Champions: The Brandon Bobcats.  Photo: Uwe Welz, U of Alberta

The 2012-2013 Canada West Men's Volleyball Champions: The Brandon Bobcats.  Photo: Uwe Welz, U of Alberta

The problem lies in the fact that instead of teams being able to have a stockpile of strong players, they will have a strong core of 6 or 7 players.  This impacts the development of players as they are not training in environments with the highest level of competition.  To develop the strongest possible athletes, players need to be pushed and have competition every day in practice.  Although this will give fringe players a better chance of playing for CIS team earlier in their career, it may not give them the best chance to fully develop as they will be forced into starting roles opposed to learning from the bench or in college.   There are already a handful of teams who are carrying an excess of players, and some of the fringe players in these cases may be better served to spend some time at the CCAA level.  Instead, the fringe players are getting thrown into game situations at the highest level right out of high school without proper development, which stunts their chance for improvement while they are chasing the higher-level athletes instead of learning to become one of them.

I am not saying that the programs being added are not credible institutions, or lack good facilities and coaching, as they all have excellent resources; but perhaps adding the teams needs to come with some sort of performance expectation.  Possibly dividing the Canada West into a Division 1 and Division 2  where relegation and qualification is required every year (see: Canada West’s new basketball structure that has the long existing members in one pool and the new “weaker” teams playing in another http://tinyurl.com/n83bdug).  I would like to see the best possible competition in a sport that will continue to develop top athletes of the highest possible caliber.