After a run of almost 25 years in Halifax, the Canadian men's national university basketball championship will have a new home base in Ottawa for three years, beginning in 2008.
The winning bid was a joint effort between Ottawa's Carleton University, whose Ravens have captured the past four Canadian Interuniversity Sport titles, and Capital Sports Properties Inc., the company that owns the Ottawa Senators of the National Hockey League.
The tournament will be held at the 18,500-seat Scotiabank Place, where the Senators play their home games. And Carleton, whose basketball program under coach Dave Smart is second to none in this country, will be afforded an automatic berth in the championship as the host entry for all three years it is held in Ottawa.
"CIS looks forward to working with Carleton University and Capital Sports to take this outstanding event to the next level," Marg McGregor, the CIS chief executive officer, said. "With the event being hosted in Ottawa, basketball fans from Ontario, Quebec and Northern U.S. will be exposed to exceptional basketball, in a world-class facility at family affordable rates."
The announcement was made by CIS yesterday in Ottawa after the governing body of university sports in Canada listened to bid proposals last Saturday from the four interested parties, including the University of British Columbia, McMaster University in Hamilton and Atlantic University Sport in Halifax, where the tournament has been held for the past 23 years.
The event will be held in Halifax for one more year in March before beginning its three-year run in Ottawa. The winning bid included guaranteed payments to CIS of $250,000 in 2008, $275,000 in 2009 and $300,000 in 2010.
"We think university sports is a great product, and to be able to move it around the country and showcase the calibre of men's basketball to a new and different audience within Canada is very attractive to us," McGregor said in an interview. "We're quite excited about taking it on the road, if you will, and at the same time very appreciative of what Atlantic Canada has done with the property."
It was not an easy decision for CIS to move the tournament and risk killing off much of the charm the event has built up after almost a quarter-century in Halifax, where the vibrant and varied night life went part and parcel with the games.
"I don't have a problem with it," said Steve Konchalski, the men's head basketball coach at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S. "It wasn't going to be here forever. I'm sure that Carleton will do an excellent job with it.
"Having said that, I'm disappointed that Halifax won't have an opportunity to host the finals for the 25th year, just to thank Halifax for all the hard work the organizers have put in."
What Konchalski, and other CIS coaches have a problem with is that the already powerful Ravens will get an automatic berth in the championship for three years. At a meeting of the CIS coaches association in March, the members voted unanimously against allowing a free pass into future events just because a team happened to be from the host school.
"It is just something that goes against every competitive bone in my body," Konchalski said. "Teams should have to earn their way in."
His sentiments were echoed by Mike Katz of the University of Toronto, who pointed out that the lure of an automatic berth in the national championship would give Carleton a recruiting advantage over other schools.
"Maybe you could give the host school an automatic berth for just the first year to help get the tournament up on its feet," Katz said. "After that, the competing schools could be chosen on merit alone."