The Carleton Ravens have established a mere monopoly of National Titles for Men’s CIS Basketball, as they captured their sixth consecutive title with a 101-79 win over the Calgary Dinos in last Sunday’s final held at the University of British Columbia’s campus in Vancouver.
Carleton is stringing together a run through the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), almost like John Wooden’s old UCLA squads in the 1970’s. The Ravens have now captured 12 out of the last 14 National Titles. In fact, they’ve built their program to be such a powerhouse, that I believe they could compete with several D-II schools in the United States, and also some weak teams in Division I.
I was fortunate enough to attend their quarterfinal game against my alma mater, Thompson Rivers University. From an entertainment point of view it’s really satisfying to experience quality basketball that some Canadians are missing out on.
During the first quarterfinal on Thursday, 415 people were crammed into a 5,000 seat Doug Mitchell Sports Complex (same arena that hosted Women’s Ice Hockey in the 2010 Olympics) to see Thompson Rivers hang tight with the powerhouse Ravens. For three quarters the Wolfpack kept the game within two possessions until the Ravens pulled away in the fourth for a 91-75 win.
I relished the experience, despite the fact that the real March Madness was being shown south of the border on Thursday. A member of the Orlando Magic D-League team, Melvin Ejim, had his younger brother, Ryan Ejim, star for Carleton last weekend, averaging 19.3 PPG during the tournament.
One of the disadvantages that CIS possesses is how large in quantity Canada is and finding the right formula for the tournament is a challenge, but also essential to continue to grow the game at the collegiate level. Take the NCAA Tournament for example, they seem to reach its pinnacle annually by planning out a successful event that draws viewership throughout a four-week period. Over half of the Final Fours have been played in Midwestern cities, such as Houston, Indianapolis, and Minneapolis and therefore, there are not many coast to coast trips that fans have to make like the CIS has.
Unfortunately, this is not a realistic situation for the CIS, as hosting an Elite 8 in Saskatoon or Winnipeg isn’t ethical for those cities. Neither appease the eyes of tourists nor retain itself as a basketball hub. The final rounds are primarily held in eastern Canada and before this year, the last time the tournament was held in British Columbia was in 1982, a long 44 years ago.
More importantly, since the CIS Championships overlap with college basketball’s March Madness. Only a few basketball fans were well-represented in British Columbia. I was hoping to go to the CIS Final but stayed home because March Madness was on TSN and the CIS Final was on Sportsnet 360. I'm sure other sports fans in the Vancouver area stayed home for the same reason.
A question to ponder is how CIS can explore new ways to innovate its brand and audience.
If they legitimately want to transform themselves into a marquee event on the Canadian sports calendar, then it has to make a splash nationally. One of the reasons why TSN has achieved so much success with the IIHF World Juniors is because it starts the day after Christmas and no one has to go anywhere or has any reason to go anywhere. The CIS needs to plan a blueprint to get more attention to the tournament for it to be more of a success.