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Glen Constantin has some unfinished business to deal with.

The coach of the Laval Rouge et Or is looking to claim the team’s 10th Vanier Cup – the Canadian national university football championship – in a rematch against the Western Mustangs in Quebec City on Saturday. Last year, the Rouge et Or fell short, losing to the Mustangs 39-17 at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton.

The circumstances favour Laval. Quebec City is the home of the Rouge et Or. Constantin has been preparing in the office he regularly occupies at Telus Stadium. Laval had no postseason travel, playing the Quebec conference final, the national semi-final and now the national final all in the comfort of their home stadium (last year, Laval travelled to Calgary for the semi-final and also lost a handful of players to injury). And the teams will play in front of a sell-out crowd that heavily favours the Rouge et Or.

“It’s a good opportunity to get a second chance at Western,” Constantin said. “We’re healthier, we’re better rested and I think we’re better prepared to play one of U Sports’ best football teams in a long time.”

Laval and Western will be looking to put on a competitive show in their second consecutive meeting. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. ET, and will be televised on Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 360. Fans and critics alike will also be keeping a keen eye on other Vanier Cup meetings, during which coaches and stakeholders will meet to discuss the future of Canadian university football.

Both teams say they’re prepared for a tough battle.

Western head coach Greg Marshall, who was selected as the 2018 U Sports Coach of the Year on Thursday night, will lead a team he says is “right there” with the 2017 champions, who completed a perfect season and captured their first national title since 1994. Quarterback Chris Merchant is having a record playoff run and says he will be fine come kickoff despite an apparent back injury sustained in the semi-final against Saskatchewan.

Western took a charter flight to Quebec City on Thursday morning to allow the team to keep their normal routine as much as possible. The biggest concern they have is the noise.

In London, the Mustangs rarely fill TD Stadium. On Saturday, they’ll experience enough noise to block out a lot of calls from the sidelines. Merchant says they’re considering using a silent count on offence to account for this.

“Our players haven’t really been in that atmosphere,” Marshall said. “It’s one thing to practice that [in London], in a quiet stadium, but it’s a whole different animal – like communication on the sidelines, it’s more difficult.”

Laval’s fifth-year quarterback Hugo Richard is ready for the opportunity to finish his university career with a national championship at home. Richard, who was chosen as a second-team All-Canadian on Thursday night, said Laval’s attention to detail will be what gives them that coveted 10th championship.

“Last year was really about performance from our end. [Western] played well and they’re a solid team, that’s for sure, but we didn’t really play to our potential,” he said. “I think we have a team that is a little bit more focused on details. We took it all the way, step by step and never really neglected any detail.”

While the game is the main focus for Marshall and Constantin, the coaches have been involved in discussions around expanding football at a national level. Critics have vocalized discontent with the status quo, in which one team makes it out of each conference – which include the Canada West, Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic – only to experience one-sided games.

In this year’s semi-finals, for example, Laval thumped the St. Francis Xavier X-Men 63-0, and Western trounced the Saskatchewan Huskies 47-24.

Among the critics is Graham Brown, the president and chief executive of U Sports, who told The Globe and Mail the current format cannot stay. A positive aspect of this year, he says, is the location of the championship game. Laval’s home is Telus Stadium in Quebec City and organizers say Saturday will be a sell-out (Marshall said Western fans have been struggling to find additional tickets). Quebec’s fan base makes it an attractive location regardless of who is playing, where three years ago, the UBC Thunderbirds defeated the Montreal Carabins in Quebec City in front of a sold-out crowd.

“I often feel that’s a significant home-field advantage that the other 26 schools have to fight against,” Brown said. “But no one complains about it being there because they know they’ll do a great job with it.”

But the challenges of the game, particularly since Brown joined U Sports – formerly Canadian Interuniversity Sport – in 2016, have become unavoidable. While some places in the country can sell the product, the blowouts have proven difficult to tackle.

“The playoff structure has been a topic of discussion for almost two years, and it’s getting to the point where a recommendation is going to have to be made,” Brown said.

Currently, the four conference champions move on to a semi-final. But alternatives might include an eight-team national playoff, a six-team championship with the four conference champions and two wildcards – in which the top seeds would have a bye – and a highly contested two-tiered system that would rank teams based on competitiveness. Some teams are concerned about the elimination of bye weeks to accommodate these schedules, or increased travel costs.

Phil Currie, the executive director of the Atlantic University Sport conference, told The Canadian Press that its members “basically refuse to get in the arms race,” claiming “fantastic” parity for the six schools on the East Coast.

While the conference produces a different champion consistently (in the past 10 years, four schools have won the title at least twice), the AUS has not won a national semi-final in 11 years, and the last Vanier Cup victory for an Atlantic team was 16 years ago, when Saint Mary’s defeated Saskatchewan.

Constantin believes change is necessary to continue the competitive nature of university football in Canada.

“You want to respect all teams that play here and compete, but we need to grow the sport and grow the fan interest towards football in U Sports, and something needs to be done. We need to respect conference champions, but we need defined seedings, or something,” he said.

“It’s like we’re scared to address it in a room because it offends people, but every year at this time we have this discussion, and we need to address it.”

Brown stressed that the football in the AUS is “very good” and schools invest a significant amount of resources into their football programs. But the conversation around the playoff format and next steps must go beyond just the conference’s competitiveness within, and move into a national discussion.

“We’re just very conscious in doing so, we don’t use what appears to be the competitiveness of one of our conferences as the reason because that’s really not the reason,” Brown said. “The reason is, truthfully, to allow more teams to enter the national playoff structure. And to create more excitement. Our TV numbers are going down. If you keep doing the same thing over and over and over and it doesn’t seem to be working, you’ve really got to do something about that.”

Coaches met on Thursday to discuss the technical, on-field aspects of the game and again on Friday to debate more strategic matters. The coaches are said to have rejected the six-team playoff system Thursday, but the eight-team structure is still being discussed. If any changes occur to the playoff structure, they will not be in effect until the 2020 season, as planning for the 2019 is already under way.

“We recognize there are challenges. We’re just trying to figure out the best way forward without alienating any of our members,” Brown said.

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