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by Archives March 18, 2008

Tonight, the two lowest seeds in the NCAA’s men’s basketball tournament (otherwise known as March Madness) will play a game to see who gets the honour of playing the tournament’s No. 1 team.
And with that, millions of Americans and Canadians who haven’t watched one game of college basketball since last April will fill out brackets and try and be the best (read: luckiest) college basketball prognosticator.
The thing is, March Madness has already begun. In Canada, they also play playoff basketball, and this year the Carleton Ravens actually lost a game. The team that won 18 straight games in the CIS final eight and five straight championships, lost in the semi-final to the Acadia Axemen, who were the tournament’s No. 5 seed, in a double-overtime classic.
The thing people love about this format is the upset – when some school that had no shot upsets a top seed. But why didn’t people take notice when No. 7 Brock beat No. 2 UBC and No. 6 Western to advance to the National Championship north of the border?
Isn’t this why we love March Madness? Then why don’t people here take notice of what is right under their noses? Well, other than the fact that the games are on The Score, the No. 3 sports broadcaster in the country (the equivalent to the NHL being on Versus in the United States).
If this kind of thing happened in the United States’ March Madness, people would be going insane. Remember what it was like two years ago when George Mason made it all the way to the Final Four?
Here, it was merely a footnote in Sunday papers across the country. No reporters covering the event, just a wire service brief. In fairness, the Globe and Mail did have basketball reporter Michael Grange at the tournament – they just don’t have a Sunday paper.
Earlier this year, Concordia hosted the University of Illinois Fighting Illini in their pre-season tour. Guess what? The Stingers beat the Illini. Illinois went through a tough regular season, but still managed to go to the Big Ten tournament’s final even though they were the No. 10 seed.
My point is that the level of play up here is not poor. I’m not saying that there are future NBA players here. When there are 300 choices in the United States, the best players will not stay in Canada to play basketball.
There is some real talent here, however. Damian Buckley – who if you’ve watched play is a tremendous performer – was only a second team All-Canadian. QSSF MVP Jean-Phillipe Morin of Laval is somebody who can score inside and out. Across Canada, other great players are unknown to everyone other than their friends and family and for three days a year to people who actually watch The Score.
Contrast this again to the United States when ESPN has Championship Week – where they show the championships of most conference tournaments and have “bracketologists” who try and figure out who will make the March Madness tournament and experts and analysts who break down everything from a jump shot to coaching mistakes.
Of course, in the States, people care. There is interest and there is money. It’s the Road to the Final Four presented by Pontiac. Here? The Smart Final 8. If there was enough interest, let’s face it, TSN or Sportsnet would show the game . . . not The Score.
University-level sport in Canada is actually growing in popularity. People are starting to realize how good the competition is here. Some universities across Canada even have students who care about their sports teams. They get them to come to their games. I know at Concordia it seems like students make up the minority at games, but you should see some of the universities in the Maritimes and out West. People care. Students care. Heck, an Ottawa-Carleton basketball game can draw close to 10,000 people at Scotiabank Place where the Ottawa Senators play their games.
There is hope for Canadian university sport. There are opportunities for it to continue its growth. At Concordia, an improved Sports Complex will go a long way towards making it a true event at this university. It will continue to grow.
However, there is an asterisk on everything I say. Now that the NCAA is opening its doors to Canadian universities, it’s only a matter of time until the potential of university sport in Canada and the CIS becomes lost.
After all, the teams who decide to go south see dollar signs and opportunity they don’t have here. Is it the right move? I’m not so sure. But there isn’t anyone to second guess their decisions in Canada. There aren’t enough people who care.

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