From a Canadian Interuniversity Sport football fan’s point of view, the Northern 8 seems like an obvious change that needs to be made to help foster the sport nationwide.
Would you like to spend a Friday night watching the Huskies football team battle the defending national champion Université de Montréal Carabins? How about the Université de Laval Rouge et Or or the McMaster University Marauders? Any of those games could have been on the Huskies schedule if all four conferences had agreed to the proposed Northern 8 Football Conference.
The Northern 8 would have involved eight teams: two from the Canada West (University of Calgary and either the University of Manitoba or Saskatchewan), two from the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (Laval and Montreal) and four from the Ontario University Athletics (McMaster, University of Guelph, Western University and the University of Ottawa). Saskatoon-based businessman David Dubé and Vancouver-based broadcaster Jim Mullin started the idea.
The purpose behind the Northern 8 is to build university football as a whole in Canada. The plan involves putting the best teams in the country up against each other on national television. Dubé is ready to invest the money to fully cover the cost of television production and the eight schools would split the total costs of air travel for the year. The Northern 8 is a non-profit organization and if any profits are made, all non-participating members of the four CIS football conferences would split the profits.
“It’s impossible. We’ve already approved our schedule. We have to get on with things,” Grace said in an interview with TSN.
Football fans could have seen some amazing matchups: Laval versus McMaster rematch from the 2011 and 2012 Vanier Cups, a Montreal-Manitoba rematch from last year’s Uteck Bowl or a 2012 Mitchell Bowl rematch with Calgary and McMaster. Some national television matchups that jump out from the 2015 sample schedule include McMaster at Calgary for week two, Laval at McMaster for week six and Ottawa against Montreal for week eight.
A great side effect of the Northern 8 would be closer games across the CIS. No more squash games where Laval beats down McGill University 70–3 and weaker schools like the University of Waterloo won’t have to go up against a CIS top five powerhouse like McMaster.
Developing programs would face each other more often, similar to how teams like the University of Northern British Columbia and MacEwan University compete in the Explorers Division in CanWest basketball.
Bottom-tier teams like York University, Waterloo, McGill and the University of British Columbia will play easier opponents in conference, helping to give them a fighting chance in games which would hopefully keep fans in the stands. UBC’s schedule for next season would be home and homes with Manitoba, the University of Regina and the University of Alberta. They would still have to play against Calgary and Saskatchewan but only once each.
Teams would play a four-to-five game schedule against other Northern 8 opponents. For example the Huskies would have played Western, Ottawa and Calgary twice. Their other four opponents for the year would be Manitoba, UBC, Alberta and Regina so as to fulfill CanWest conference play.
Several former and current CIS players have voiced their thoughts about the Northern 8 Conference on the change.org petition. Former Huskie and current Saskatchewan Roughrider Chad Rempel stated his opinion on the matter in a comment on the petition.
“As a Canadian kid who once played in the CIS before embarking on a 10-year playing career in the CFL, I couldn’t be more excited to hear about the Northern 8 initiative. The idea of interlocking games being televised nationally is a great opportunity to promote our great players, universities and unique Canadian game,” Rempel said.
This year was the first since the 1950s that the OUA wasn’t broadcast either regionally or nationally on television. This year’s Yates Cup and Mitchell Bowl suffered in the attendance category, when a few years ago they sold out.
It seems hard to believe that a company that spent $5.2 billion on the rights to NHL games can’t afford to put on decent coverage of our country’s own university athletics.
Image: Jeremy Britz