On Wednesday, after months of speculation, the OUA finally released the highly-anticipated schedules for the conference’s league-based sports and with it, they confirmed some significant schedule and rule changes for OUA women’s basketball.
Firstly, the league confirmed my reports from March of a conference realignment, which will see the OUA revert to its former two-conference format.
The “new” format merges the North and East divisions to make up the Eastern Conference, leaving the West and Central division to form the Western Conference.
|OUA Western Conference||OUA Eastern Conference|
|Algoma Thunderbirds (West)||Carleton Ravens (North)|
|Brock Badgers (Central)||Laurentian Voyageurs (North)|
|Guelph Gryphons (Central)||Nipissing Lakers (North)|
|Lakehead Thunderwolves (Central)||Ottawa Gee-Gees (North)|
|Laurier Golden Hawks (West)||Queen’s Gaels (East)|
|McMaster Marauders (Central)||Ryerson Rams (East)|
|Waterloo Warriors (West)||Toronto Varsity Blues (East)|
|Western Mustangs (West)||York Lions (East)|
|Windsor Lancers (West)|
More Regular Season Games
Another change has been made to the schedule, increasing the number of games from 19-20 games from the 2016-17 season. Teams in the newly formed Western Conference will now play 24 games and teams in the Eastern Conference will play 23. The unequal number is due to the odd number of teams in the two conferences: eight in the east and nine in the west.
The first “half” or “first semester” of the regular season that spans from opening night on October 25th to the last games of 2017 taking place December 2nd are used for “interlock games.”
Teams will play all of their inter-conference (out of conference) opponents in the first semester and will exclusively play their conference opponents in the second-semester portion of the season, spanning from the first games of 2018 on January 3rd to the end of the regular season on February 17th.
New Playoff Format
The new playoff structure sees the top six teams in each conference receiving a playoff berth, with their seeding based on team records, not RPI, which has been removed for the 2017-18 schedule and beyond. The top two teams in each conference will receive a first-round bye. The four teams remaining after the first round in each conference would then play for a crossover semifinal bid. Another major change is the elimination of the single-site Final Four. Instead, the league has shifted to a single-game championship game and a bronze-medal game hosted elsewhere. The host of the championship game host is determined by an annual division rotation, unless two teams from the same conference were to advance from the semis, resulting in the highest seeded team hosting the Wilson or Critelli Cup Final.
The annual division rotation beginning in 2018 is: Gold Medal Game hosted by the Western Conference, and Bronze Medal Game hosted by the Eastern Conference.
This “new” structure mirrors what was in place three years ago.
So what would this look like?
Everyone take a breath. That was a ton of information. To give you a better sense of what the new format would look like in practice, I took last year’s regular season results, and ran the playoffs through a hypothetical scenario where the highest seed wins each game.
Here we go!
After the 2016-17 OUA women’s basketball regular season finished, here is how the new conference standings would have shaped up with the team’s ranked by their record (winning percentage).
So the first step in determining the first round playoff matchups is to give the top two teams in each conference a bye, and then slot the teams into their conference quarter-finals using 3-6, 4-5 seeding system. Carleton takes the first seed in the East, using the OUA tiebreaker system:
- Most league wins (if the teams have played the same number of games)
- Record in head-to-head competition
Both teams finished with 18 wins, so we move onto the second tiebreaker. Carleton beat Queen’s 60-52 in their lone game of the season, giving them the #1 Seed in the East.
With the new schedule having teams in the same conference play each other twice, if Carleton and Queen’s were to have each won a game, we would have to move on to the next tiebreaker, which is Point difference in head-to-head competition.
Here are the conference quarter-final matchups:
West: Laurier (3) vs. Western (6) and Brock (4) vs. Western (5)
East: Ryerson (3) vs. York (6) and Ottawa (4) vs. Toronto (5)
In this scenario, assuming the higher seeds win their games, here are the matchups for the conference semifinals, with the addition of the teams who had first round byes:
West: McMaster (1) vs. Brock (4) and Windsor (2) vs. Laurier (3)
East: Carleton (1) vs. Ottawa (4) and Queen’s (2) vs. Ryerson (3)
Now the tricky part. In our scenario, if our higher seeds won, this is what the semifinals would look like, with the crossover now in play.
SF #1: McMaster (1W) vs. Queen’s (2E)
SF #2: Carleton (1E) vs. Windsor (2W)
So finally, we are left we a few outcomes to determine the championship game. If the #1 seeds won, the Critelli Cup and Bronze Medal Games would like this:
With the annual rotation, the hosts for the games are determined by a yearly rotation. In 2018 the Critelli Cup would be played in the gym of the school of the highest seed from the Western Conference, and the Bronze Medal Game would be hosted by the Eastern Conference, and every year the host conferences swap. The rotation applies if both of the #1 seeds won or if both of the #2 seeds win their semifinal.
But, let’s image both winners came from the same conference. In that scenario, the Gold Medal and Bronze Medal games would be held by the highest seed in each matchup. For example, here is what that would look like if both Eastern Conference teams won:
In any combination, both of the teams playing for the Critelli Cup would qualify for nationals, and the only hope for a third OUA entry in the Final 8 would come through U SPORTS’ at-large berth system. But we’ll save that discussion for another day.
- More games = more basketball. Aside from a bit more fatigue on the athletes, viewers and fans of the game win by having four or five additional games per year
- When I heard the news about the Final Four being scrapped, I poured one out in its honour. To me, the format made too much sense to remove. The two-day event was an excellent celebration of OUA basketball and was great for spectators and for broadcast.
- While I’m upset about the loss of the Final Four, I’m even more confused about the annual rotation of the gold and bronze medal games. I personally don’t understand why that’s something that is automatically assigned, versus giving the host seed to the team with the best winning percentage in the league. In my opinion, something as advantageous as home court advantage should be earned, not pre-determined.
- Initially I had some concerns regarding the playoff format, specifically in regards to the crossover for the semifinals. While making use of a format like the NBA where teams stay in their conference until the championship game might be the easiest way of doing things, and having one set bracket would make a fair amount of sense, it is my understanding that the decision from the OUA office was made to give the OUA the best chance of sending its best teams to nationals. So if the Eastern Conference was much stronger than the Western Conference—which could be particularly true on the men’s side of this equation—then you might be able to have two teams from the conference play for the Critelli/Wilson Cup, and thus qualify for the Final 8
- I’m still a little surprised to see the death of the RPI system for playoff seeding. I can’t decide if it was done because only 5% of the U SPORTS population understood how it worked, or they saw the troubles that CW had (though they’ve taken steps to make it more fair this year) or they just wanted to simplify the rankings with the new conference structure.