Monday, January 5, 2015

Feedback on the playdown process

Well yesterday’s post on the current Ontario Curling Association playdown process drew a lot of reaction. There were comments posted, emails sent directly to me and a few Tweets fired out as well. 
There was a lot of opinion about what happened. Some positive, some negative. 
A few missed the point of the column entirely. 
So here is a follow-up that will hopefully deal with a number of the issues:

  1.  Ontario’s playdown system is fine. 
Really? I disagree. Why is Ontario is the only major region that doesn’t offer a spot in the provincial final outside the direct playdown process?

Take a look at this: 

* In B.C., the defending champion and CTRS leader get in;
* In Alberta, the defending champion, CTRS leader and the top two point-getters from the Alberta Curling Tour get in; 
* In Saskatchewan, the winner of the Saskatchewan Curling Tour Players Championship, the top two CTRS leaders and a wild card from the CTRS and SCT get in; 
* In Manitoba, there are two spots for the CTRS leaders;
* In Quebec, the point leader on the Quebec Curling Tour gets in and there are three spots for teams that earn points on a variety of curling tours. 

Sorry but Ontario’s playdown process is outdated and in need of change. 

     2.  Glenn Howard shouldn’t expect to get a bye. 

This was never about Glenn Howard and I guarantee you even if it was, he would never be asking for a bye. This is about the system. I haven’t spoken to Glenn but I’m sure he’d be the first to say that he lost fair and square (and congrats to Damien Villard and Aaron Squires and their teams for knocking off the curling icon). I can tell you that even when he was winning Ontario year after year he was perhaps the loudest critic of the current system. Two years ago, John Epping was bounced in the regions. Last year it was Joe Frans. Both were the top-ranked Ontario team. So this is not the first time this has happened. In any case, if there was a spot given to the top team on the CTRS, Team Howard wouldn’t have earned it. John Epping’s rink sits fifth on that list, one spot ahead of Howard (of course it could depend on the cutoff date). 

     3.  You shouldn’t give free passes to elite teams

Well really, you aren’t if you give byes via CTRS. What you’re doing is rewarding teams that go out and compete against the best teams in big competitions. It’s not free – they’re earning their spots over a longer period against better teams, which is ultimately a better test. Instead of getting spots through one or possibly two levels (i.e. zones and regions), they’re doing it over months of play. What happens is you end up with your best teams at your biggest event. That doesn’t mean they can’t be knocked off there – remember last year?

     4. Rewarding elite teams with byes is the reason why there are so few teams entering competitions. 

A few people tried to link giving byes to the drop in entries, citing the cancellation of playdowns in Edmonton as an example.

To me, um, that’s 180 degrees wrong. 

If I’m an up-and-coming team and I know that, say, Team Howard and Team Epping are already in the provincial final, I might be more inclined to enter the playdowns, knowing I stand a better chance of reaching it without having to face them.

There are lots of reasons why entries are dropping these days, but giving byes to top teams is not one of them.

     5. Howard had a chance to get to the provincials and chose to skip the Challenge Round for the Skins Game.

Again, this isn’t about Glenn Howard, it’s about the system. But you know what? If I was Howard, I’d have done the exact same thing. The chance to win a boatload of cash or beat my head against the wall? I know what I’d take. Not everyone would, and that’s fine, but this is really a moot point. UPDATE: Howard has now decided to play in the Challenge Round, pulling out of the Skins Game. 

     6. The system has changed over the last few years with the addition of the defending champion and the Challenge Round changes.

Yes, I guess adding a defending champion is a change, and while it’s welcome, it’s not the only kind of change that curlers are looking for. They want a system that’s about rewarding teams that are out there playing all season, whether it’s in Ontario or around the world. As for the Challenge Round, it’s also dying a slow death although it's still useful. It's been around since the 1970s. There used to be two of them, now there’s one. There’s a convoluted process in place to qualify, but it’s not needed because it’s never full – last year there were 19 teams. I could take my team from the Thursday night league, sign up and get in. If you want to make this work, have it before the zone playdowns. Then it will mean something. But there's nothing really new about the Challenge Round. 

Checking back on my notes about this situation, I found a column I wrote in 2013 in the Ontario Curling Report where then-executive director Doug Bakes said they held a player feedback forum at the Tankard in 2009 and got lots of great information. He added that there was another meeting planned for the Tankard that year that would include players, sponsors, TV and administrators. But nothing happened. 

Now that was the old regime that was essentially tossed out on its ear last year. The new folks have had a lot more pressing issues to deal with like, oh, getting a proper constitution in place. So they can be forgiven if they haven’t made any changes for this year. I really think there's a smart bunch in the office now including the new executive director Steve Chenier. If nothing else, I'm confident in saying that they understand the need for change. 

BTW, thanks for all the comments, both those that agreed and those that didn't. This kind of feedback will help further the discussion. 

Next, a plan on how to make it work. 

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