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The big weekend has arrived for CIS

Canadian Interuniversity Sport is hoping for big things from its inaugural Super Championship Weekend.

In previous years, the women’s basketball, men’s basketball, women’s hockey and men’s hockey national championship tournaments were each held on separate weekends. The Super Championship Weekend, by contrast, will have all four championships running concurrently from March 12 to 15 in four different cities across Canada.

Michel Belanger, communications and media relations manager for the CIS, believes that the adaptation will aid in promoting Canada’s finest athletes through nationally televised game coverage.

“Our decision was influenced heavily by the six-year agreement that we signed with the television station Sportsnet last year,” explained Belanger. “Among the things we discussed at that time was the fact that our ratings hadn’t improved in recent years.”

While the CIS football championships garnered many viewers each fall, the numbers weren’t quite as impressive for the winter sports. This spurred the CIS executives to brainstorm solutions to this problem, and ways in which they could improve.

“One of Sportsnet’s producers had worked at several Olympic Games, and suggested that if we put all of the championships on the same weekend, viewers could jump from women’s basketball to men’s hockey, for example, all on the same channel,” he said. “Initially it was just an idea, but as we started to discuss it in further detail we realized that it might be a huge step forward for our program.”

While the executive committee discussed at length which sports would be feasible in this context, they eventually decided that hockey and basketball would be most profitable on television.

“Instead of having them spread out on separate weekends, we decided to try hosting them all in one action-packed weekend,” explained Belanger. “We’re pretty confident that it will drive up our television ratings, because firstly we’re able to focus all our promotional material on one weekend. Secondly, we’re hoping that someone who is primarily interested in say, women’s hockey, might be tempted to also tune into some basketball games. Alumni from schools which may have several teams playing throughout the weekend might end up watching all of the games.”

While the new format has many upsides, Belanger admits that it has created some challenges logistically.

“If you look at last year, for example, McGill had teams qualify for all four national championships. In situations like that, it can create some challenges for fans and athletic directors, who have to choose which tournament to attend, and which team to support.

“With every new idea or concept comes new challenges, but we think overall it’s going to be great for the CIS.”

The CIS men’s and women’s hockey tournaments will also be undergoing a significant change in format, with eight teams now taking part in a single-elimination tournament.

“We had been looking for a new model for the hockey championships for years,” explained Belanger. “For the last 15 years, we had six teams playing in two pools. This created headaches every year, because oftentimes the standings would come down to point differentials. In these situations, it was really hard to explain to television viewers how one team might have to win by a certain number of goals in order to qualify for the championship game. We felt we needed to simplify this process.”

Many CIS officials suggested a true round robin tournament akin to the Memorial Cup, in which all four qualifying teams play each other. This idea was vetoed, however, due to the length of round robin tournaments, which can often run for more than a week.

“We just couldn’t justify taking university students on the road and away from school for that long,” said Belanger. “We were seeking formats which would still allow us to hold the championship over four days, and that’s why we chose to move to an eight-team, single elimination tournament, like what we see in basketball and soccer.”

The Varsity Reds men’s hockey team will be the lone UNB team taking part in the inaugural Super Championship Weekend. The University Cup men’s hockey championship begins March 12 in Halifax.

Calgary will host this year’s CIS women’s hockey championship. Toronto and Quebec City will host the men’s and women’s basketball Final 8 tournaments, respectively. Every tournament’s semifinal games and championship games will be aired coast-to-coast on either Sportsnet One or Sportsnet 360 on March 14-15.

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