VANCOUVER (CUP) – In the world of NCAA basketball, Canada has become the summer destination of choice.
In the next month, Arizona, Louisville, and 2006 NCAA champions Florida will join approximately a half dozen other Division I schools heading north. They’ll go sightseeing, dine at fancy restaurants, and buy maple syrup.
But more importantly, coming to Canada buys each team ten extra days of practice, and up to ten extra games that don’t count against the NCAA’s maximum game limit. For American college basketball coaches, that’s Canada’s true appeal.
Canadian fans of the college game have NCAA bylaws 30.7.1 – 30.7.10 to thank for bringing some of basketball’s best young stars north. The rules allow a school to practice and play exhibition games in August and September – nearly two months before a team is allowed to begin regular practices – if the team is going on a foreign tour, which it can do once every four years.
New Mexico State is one of the approximately half dozen schools taking advantage of NCAA rules by coming to Canada this year, playing Douglas College, the University of British Columbia, and Saskatchewan during a Labour Day long weekend trip to Vancouver.
With four incoming Division I transfers, their coaching staff felt a trip to Canada was an ideal way to bring the inexperienced team together to practice, play competitive basketball early in the year, and foster team bonding, according to Garrett Ward, assistant director of athletic media relations at New Mexico State University.
Tours of Canada do not just attract the inexperienced and unproven of the NCAA. Former NBA coach Rick Pitino and the heralded Louisville basketball program will be in Ottawa to face CIS champions Carleton, the University of Ottawa, and Laurentian University over the Labour Day weekend. At the same time 2006 NCAA Final Four MVP Joaquim Noah and NCAA champions Florida will be in southern Ontario to face Brock University and the University of Guelph.
“[The] ten practices prior to [a trip] is really the hidden value of everything, and why NCAA schools are so quick to jump on them whenever possible,” said Fred Demarest, men’s basketball sports information director at the University of Florida.
“It’s an opportunity to spend ten days practicing as a team and getting a head start. For the incoming players it’s a benefit to get used to the system, and for the returning players to chip off some of the rust.”
Jason Sarkies, tournament director of Basketball Travelers Inc., the company responsible for planning the majority of the Division I teams’ foreign tours, said besides the common language, ease of travel, and relative cost, NCAA schools are choosing Canada over alternative destinations around the world because of the style of basketball and level of competitiveness they get against CIS teams.
“The Canadian style is far more American – in fact it’s almost identical to the American style – so the games are actually far more helpful to them than the standard European or Australian basketball,” said Sarkies.
In Canada, university teams are relishing the opportunity to place Division I competition, and despite Canadian tours becoming increasingly popular in recent years, there is no lack of teams willing to host NCAA schools, said Sarkies.
“A lot of Canadian guys like to play against Americans,” said UBC men’s basketball assistant coach Randy Nohr. “I’m sure we get a lot more excited than they do. It’s a lot of fun as a Canadian to beat Division I American schools. And it’s a good opportunity to play good competition, the type of teams we’re going to face at nationals.”
So Canada is in, Canada is hot, Canada is the new summer vacation destination of choice for the NCAA. Well, sort of.
“Actually, this is a make-up for a trip we were supposed to go on in 2004,” said Demarest. “We were supposed to travel to the Bahamas, but unfortunately a hurricane hit the Bahamas when we were supposed to be there.”
Okay, Canada may not be the Bahamas, but for basketball, being the NCAA’s backup plan won’t have many Canadian teams complaining any time soon.