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With a record of 0-5, the York University Lions are having a rough year competing with other teams – not to mention scoring a touchdown.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

In an effort to overcome adversity over the course of a game, football coaches have been known to instruct their players just to stay in the moment and focus on winning the next quarter, the next half.

Warren Craney has had to break down things even further than that as the coach of the York Lions looks to bust out of a losing skid that is taking on frightening proportions in Ontario University Athletics.

"You've still got to set goals for the players and we're basically concentrating on the little things," Craney said. "We're focusing on the individual battles, encouraging our players just to win the series, win the play, as much as we can.

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"And we're still trying to keep it fun."

That can be a difficult proposition for a team that is 0-5 on the season and has been outscored 265-12. Amazingly, the Lions have yet to score a touchdown this year.

The Lions aren't just losing, they're being annihilated – and it is a trend that is on the upswing across the country, where the disparity among university football programs within Canadian Interuniversity Sport is starting to raise alarm bells.

In Ontario, the Lions are not alone in their struggles.

The Waterloo Warriors are also 0-5, having been outscored 274-21. But at least they've been able to score a touchdown – once, back in the first game of the season, against Carleton.

"We've got some work to do with our product," admitted Gord Grace, the new chief executive officer of the OUA.

For first time in recent memory, the OUA is without a regional television contract for its football games, the only one of the four football conferences within the CIS not to have one.

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That blackout extends to the OUA's flagship championship football game, the Yates Cup, to be played on Nov. 15. This will mark the first time in more than 40 years that the Yates Cup will not be televised, Grace said.

In a year where the CIS is pulling out all the marketing stops to promote the 50th anniversary of the Vanier Cup national championship, to be played in Montreal on Nov. 29, this is not a welcome development.

The OUA's contract with Sportsnet was not renewed after last season, the broadcaster citing low viewership numbers as one of the reasons.

Grace said it didn't help that of the 10 games that were carried in 2013, many were lopsided affairs with only one decided by fewer than 10 points. In six of the other games the margin of victory was 25 points or more, not exactly compelling TV.

It is a disturbing trend that has carried on into this season where one-sided CIS football games have been a weekly occurrence.

Through the first five weeks of the regular season across the CIS, there have been 11 games where one of the teams scored 60 or more points. There were only nine games all of last season where the 60-point plateau was reached.

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This season, CIS teams are winning by a staggering average of 29.6 points a game, up from 20.2 points when compared with the same point last year.

The carnage includes:

a 66-0 shellacking by the McMaster Marauders, the country's fourth-ranked outfit, against Waterloo on Sept. 6; a 70-0 dismantling of the Lions on Sept. 6 by a University of Toronto Blues team that is not exactly considered an impact squad; a 72-15 victory by perennial national champion and No. 1-ranked Laval over Bishop's on Sept. 20; a 70-3 victory by Laval over the McGill Redmen on Sept. 27, a game in which the Rouge et Or, according to coach Glen Constantin, did not play up to his demanding standard, incurring 172 yards in penalties; a 71-3 thrashing of the Alberta Golden Bears by the Calgary Dinos on Sept. 5, a game that will go down in the record books as a 1-0 win by Alberta after Calgary was later found guilty of using an ineligible player.

"It's unfortunate that this year there have been some teams that are not as competitive," said Greg Marshall, coach of the perennial powerhouse Mustangs at Western University, currently rated No. 3 in the country. "But you have to kind of look at it school by school and not as an overall issue with CIS football in general."

Marshall said the incredible success that has been enjoyed recently by Laval, which has won a record eight Vanier Cup titles since 1999, has established a new level in the game for other Canadian universities to aspire to.

"Laval's set a pretty high standard," Marshall said. "We need to compete nationally and it's all about pushing the bar up. And at times some schools just haven't been able to keep up."

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Grace said that the problem is, when teams such as Western and Laval go into a game, the outcome is rarely in doubt.

Calgary coach Blake Nill said that the uncompetitive balance that he sees, especially in the OUA, can also help to drag the stronger teams down when the national playoffs roll around.

He said it happened to him back in 2000, when he was the coach of the Huskies at Saint Mary's, a powerhouse that year in Atlantic University Sport, going 8-0 in conference play, averaging 40.5 points per game.

In a national semi-final, Saint Mary's suffered a devastating 40-36 loss to the Regina Rams, who were more battle tested after posting a 4-4 regular-season record in a competitive Canada West conference.

And Nill said he saw it again last year in the national semis when Western came into Calgary, undefeated and the No. 1-ranked team in the country, only to be humbled 43-3 by the Dinos.

"We came from a conference where we knew we had to battle every minute of every game where Western probably just had the assumption they were going to win," Nill said. "And that's not good."

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The OUA is currently the largest university football conference in Canada with 11 teams, which play an eight-game regular-season schedule.

To help level the playing field a bit, OUA officials are considering altering the schedule in future seasons where those teams felt to be weaker would not be paired up against perennial powerhouses like Western or McMaster every year.

Grace also said that consideration is also being given to putting a cap on the number of players a team can have on its roster, thereby ensuring a more equitable dispersal of student athletes among all the competing institutions.

"Football is the flagship sport for the OUA," Grace said. "It drives most of our revenues and fan interest. We have to take better care of that property."

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