Friday, January 4, 2008

Playdown formats vary widely

This weekend, regional play gets underway in Ontario with teams battling in four different competitions to fill eight spots at the provincial final. Glenn Howard gets a bye directly to the Ontario final, thanks to winning the Brier and worlds last year. So he and the boys jetted over to Scotland for an event in Perth. Lucky guys.
The Ontario playdowns used to be a fairly logical system of qualifying teams to the provincial final. These days, I’m not so sure. The system has club, zone and regional play to qualify eight teams and then in normal years, two more teams are added through two last-chance bonspiels called the Challenge Round. It’s that last part that I think needs to go. In its place, I’d put the defending Ontario champion and the top team not otherwise qualified, from the Ontario Curling Tour. (this year, that would be Kirk Ziola).
The benefits are obvious. You get the defending champion who most years will have some recognition which allows organizers to use for marketing. And the Tour winner comes from more than just one weekend of curling. The team would generally be a better caliber than the Challenge Round winner.
Having said that, it provides no second chance for any squad that loses out in the playdowns and on more than one occasion in the past, Russ Howard won his way to the provincials via the Challenge Round.
What’s also mystifying is just how many different playdown formats there are in place. For instance, in Northern Ontario, they’ve just gone to a 16-team provincial final. That seems like an awful lot of teams who have to travel ungodly distances to play down. Sorry to say this but many of the 16 teams wouldn’t have a sniff. There just isn’t the depth in Northern Ontario. Heck, there isn’t that much depth in just about any province. I guess there is something to be said for experience, however. A young team might learn a great deal about the playdown process.
Manitoba seems to be on the right road by allowing the Tour winner (it’s Stoughton this year) a spot although figuring out all the spots is still confusing to me. Seems like there are about 16 different ways to get in.
I think this is in many ways, one of curling’s problems – too much reliance on tradition. Let’s keep doing things this way because that’s the way we’ve always done them.
I’m sure there are other examples of this in other provinces. I’d love to hear them.

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