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Monday, January 29, 2018

Diving into the Shallow end of The Pool Discussion

So, dear readers, in case you are confused looking at the Scotties standings this week, let me fill you in on what has changed.
The Scotties (and the Brier) have moved to a new format, with 2 Pools instead of the standard round robin. Why did they do this?

Here are the constraints:
  • The Scotties and Brier need to have full representation from all provinces and Territories. That makes 11 Provinces (Ontario is still deservedly split into North and South) and 3 Territories – so 14 teams. I do not know why this is the case. I have heard that some of the Sport Canada government funding demands that all provinces/territories have equal access, but I am not sure what equal access means exactly
  • The CCA likes having a Team Canada. It helps promote the events.
  • The event is already bordering on too long at 9 days. 

So that makes 15 teams that we "need" to have. And a 14 game round robin seems a little bit too long. So the CCA decided to add a 16th team (the Wild Card – a one game playoff between the two best teams in Canada who did not win a province) and split the tournament into 2 pools of 8. After you have played everybody in your pool, the top 4 teams then play each other – and the cumulative record determines the final 4 teams that make the playoffs.

Sound confusing? It is.

The good news is as the week moves along it will look more and more like a normal Scotties, with the top teams fighting it out in the end.

The Purists have gone insane over this. A Wildcard? Nunavut? What are these aberrations to the format I love! 

Even those who were loudly against Relegation (a crappy idea where the 4 lowest ranked teams from the previous year had to playoff before the event to send 1 team through to the main event) are vociferously complaining about the new format. Cripes, I even heard Kerry Galusha (the skip from the NWT) ragging on the format on Social Media! In trying to please everyone, Curling Canada has pleased no one. Even Mark Dacey (from Nova Scotia who have missed the last few Briers thanks to relegation) posted his prediction that this is the death of the Scotties/Brier.

So where do I stand on this? I guess I always say – if you are going to complain, then show me a better idea.

Do we Group all of the Territories up into one spot again? That would solve some of the problems. It is difficult to see why we continue to offer a Nunavut a spot at every National championship. I have nothing against curlers from Nunavut (I have met a few that are among the coolest people I have met curling), but from what I understand we are talking about one 2-sheet curling club that gets to send a team to every National Championship. It is basically a bye to the Brier. But then you need to find a way to let them play a playoff against a team that is a 6 hour flight away. And I am not sure if this would affect government funding of the event.

Should we group other parts of the country together as well? What about the Atlantic Canada? Atlantic Canada represents around 6% of the population of Canada, but now has 25% of the spots at the Scotties. That does not seem fair. (please don't check my math here)

Maybe we should look at regional entries to determine spots. Quebec has had only 8 women’s teams signed up this year. Maybe this should disqualify us from having an automatic spot.

Maybe Northern Ontario should not get a spot. I like mooses (or is it meese), but fair is fair and Northern Ontario is not a Province.

I think you may see where I am going here. There is no perfect solution. Somebody is always going to scream unfair! - and say that x is under-represented and y is over-represented.
There is no solution that will be fair to everybody. Manitoba has 3 teams at the Scotties this year! Is that fair?

If you have a better idea - please speak now!!!

In the meantime...

I think the notion of 1 Province (or Territory) = 1 Spot is part of the game. It is not now, nor has ever been fair to the more populous parts of the country, but hey who said life was fair.
Team Canada is a fun idea.
I’m not a fan of the wildcard idea either, but 15 is an odd number. So that makes 16 teams with a wildcard, and leaves us with the current format.

Is this format perfect? God no.

Is it tough to follow along? Yup – but we will figure it out eventually.

Will I go blind from watching some of the sub-club-level curling that is now part of the Scotties and the Brier? Maybe.

In the end – the relevance (or lack thereof) of the Scotties and the Brier has been far more damaged by the emergence of the Olympics as the penultimate curling event in the World, as well as the 37 Slam events that are now on Sportsnet every weekend from September until July. The concept of Free Agency, that makes provincial residency irrelevant has not helped the cause either. 
I seem to remember reading Warren Hansen interviewed a few years back say that the Brier would become a Second-Tier event, and the Canada Cup would emerge as the true National Championship. 

The new format will not help solve any of these larger problems that face the Scotties and the Brier. But it probably won’t make it worse!
If you are saying that this new format will kill the Brier/Scotties, I hope you are wrong. And if the Brier/Scotties do fall away, I think the new format will be at best 9th or 10th on my list of causes of death when we perform the autopsy!

So in the meantime, grab your popcorn and appreciate the events for what they still are! The Junior, Mixed and Senior Nationals have embraced this inclusive format, and it seems to have served them well. Getting to the Brier or the Scotties has never been about “fair”. It is about having curlers from everywhere play in our National Championship. Let's stick with that for now.


  1. The old Brier format was fine: each of the ten Provinces was represented to make a truly national championship, you had one team from the Territories, and Northern Ontario for historical reasons.

    Three Territory teams is two too many, Team Canada takes away from the thrill and pride of earning your spot in the national championship every year, and Team Wildcard is absurd.

    Go back to the old format -- and use it for the Tournament of Hearts too.

  2. good article Mike. always easy for people to criticize but relegation was going to kill curling in the weaker areas (Quebec being one of them btw) -you might notice we were ranked 14th at the Scotties and we have a junior team playing very well there.

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  4. Have pre-tournaments the previous week, as many as needed, to get a proper representation. The current format is idiotic. So, for instance, the territories could fight it out for one spot with the atlantic provinces in one pre-tournament, resulting in one winner that will go the to the brier and get their ass kicked at the brier. Offer several spots in the brier to provinces that have a lot of talent. Turn the thing into a true competition where the best teams are playing. All you need is one extra week to do it.

  5. Mike, are my eyes deceiving me, or did you guys just qualify for the MFing BRIER??? Congrats on the purple heart; I've been reading this blog intermittently since the beginning and you're an easy fellow to cheer for.

    Do your province proud... but most of all, make sure you soak it all up and enjoy every. single. thing. about the event -- I'm sure that won't be a problem!