Friday, January 16, 2009

The No. 1 consideration for change to Ontario's playdown system

Since my posting of Dale Matchett’s plan for the Ontario playdowns went up, I’ve had lots e-mails and phone conversations with people who are full of ideas of how to make changes to the archaic process currently in use.
Quite obviously, the folks who are playing the game at the highest levels aren’t really happy with the current system. That’s obvious and understandable.
That means there are two questions to be answered. The first is whether they can come to an agreement about how it should be changed. The second is whether the Ontario Curling Association is willing to make a change (and how quickly such a change could be enacted).
I’ve seen a few e-mail strings and some conversations on about proposed ideas and frankly, I’m not sure I know what’s best. There are some deep thinkers out there who've spent a lot of time considering this. But I can offer up one certainty that need to considered before making a final decision.
The primary mandate for the changes should be to give the best teams the best chance to represent Ontario at the Brier.
This means the teams that are playing the best should have the easiest time getting to the Tankard.
Glenn Howard should not have to play zone playdowns. Wayne Middaugh should not have to play zone playdowns. Neither should have to play regions. The fact that Middaugh is not going to be in Woodstock should be setting off alarm bells in the OCA offices in Pickering.
We’re not talking about a free pass here – we’re talking about rewarding teams who have played at a high level all year. In what other sport do teams that have played the best all year long have to start off at the same level as teams that quite possibly haven't won or even played a single game? It's mind-boggling. Imagine the Tennessee Titans starting this year's NFL playdowns at the same rung as the Detroit Lions? I know it's not quite a fair comparison but it serves to illustrate what's going on.
Very simply, at least one team should get a bye as determined by its position on the Canadian Team Ranking System list.
And contrary to what others believe, I’d say include points earned in Grand Slams and don’t limit it to events played in Ontario. If you’re playing in a Grand Slam, you’re playing against the best teams in the world. And if you’re playing in Brooks and Medicine Hat, then you have to be awfully good. Those are the teams we want at the Tankard. Don’t penalize a team because it’s playing the A tour – reward it!
So in discussing any changes – which have to include format, number of teams and length of time it takes to play the event (and not just the eight-day provincial but the weekends leading up to that) – make sure that the focus is on sending Ontario’s best to the Brier.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Matchett Plan for Ontario playdowns

One of the top skips in Ontario and a guy who has a lot of smarts when it comes to the business of the game dropped me an interesting e-mail this morning.
Dale Matchett passed along a thought on the Ontario playdown process. I’ve written before on the archaic method this province uses to decide its representative for the Timmies and lots of people are offering up suggestions on different formats that reward play outside of just the playdowns. Dale came up with a good one and here’s his plan:

Key notes: 12 Team Provincial final

Determining Teams 1 and 2 (designed for elite teams)
1 – Defending Ontario Champion.
2 – Top Ontario CTRS Leader from previous year. (should this also be the defending champion, the next CTRS team is taken. If the Defending Champion or the CTRS teams split their team and only have 2 returning players, the next CTRS team is taken. If they change one player, then the percentage of points will be lost.)

Determining Teams 3 and 4 (designed for Touring teams)
Ontario East Qualifier (16 team double knockout). OCA run with no cash purse. Only to qualify. Seed the draw. Take the top 16 teams from Regions 1-2 on the CTRS for this. Winner qualifies.

Ontario West Qualifier (16 team double knockout). OCA run with no cash purse. Only to qualify. Seed the draw. Take the top 16 teams from Regions 3-4 on the CTRS for this. Winner qualifies.

Hold in middle NOV. with cutoff Nov. 1 CTRS.

Determining Teams 5-8 (for everyone)
Zones and Regions. Take the winners of the 4 regions. Double knockout. B side has to beat the A side winner twice at the regions. No seeding.

Determining Teams 9-12 (last chance)
Challenge Rounds. East and West. 16-team double knockout. Only available to teams that have entered zones. Qualify the two remaining teams in each challenge.

This makes for a competitive, 12 team provincial, with the extra revenue from the East and West Qualifiers going to pay for 2 added teams to the provincials.

This system takes the Cashspiel equation completely out of it. The OCA might like this since they still have total control, and it is not their mandate to run cashspiels.

Competitive Teams will like this as it gives them an extra chance, and club teams will like it since 4 good teams will be exempt from the playdown process.

The last chance is still there in form of the challenge rounds.

Ultimately, you’ll see a solid field at the Tankard every year. With every team either capable of winning a big event, or at least capable of going deep in a strong field.

Now I suggested that perhaps it would make more sense to reward the current year’s CTRS leader, as of Dec. 1, with a spot instead of last year’s winner, and pointed out that there are essentially four bonspiels to decide four spots which may be tougher to organize and find host clubs for. Finally, it makes for a 12-team provincial which is longer and I don’t think we need longer so perhaps a triple knockout is the way to go. But overall, I think there’s something in here.
Thoughts anyone?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Final Skins thoughts

Congrats to Randy Ferbey and the boys for picking up the cash at the Casino Rama Skins Game. While they were full measure for the win, it’s unfortunate the contest was still marred by some untimely picks or fudges. I’m not sure it would have affected the final outcome, but certainly Glenn Howard’s squad would have earned a few more dollars with what was a relatively easy draw in the sixth. That rock hit a flat spot and sputtered to a stop just over the hog line.
The seventh was also a strange one, but only because of that measure. Maybe my eyes aren’t what they used to be but from the overhead camera, it sure looked as if the Ferbey rock was a wee bit closer to the centre than the Howard rock. And I think they guy doing the measure (I think it was Bill Rorque (sp?)) needs a refresher course in how to measure stones. Finally, was I the only guy who noticed that the part of the measure that was in the pin hole seemed to be wobbling around quite a bit, as if the hole wasn’t deep enough or maybe wide enough to allow a solid fit?
What’s wild about the Skins is the pay day for these guys. Ferbey wins $70,000 and more than doubles his winnings for the year. Even Glenn winning $27,500 is pretty good. That’s more than any first place cheque they’ve picked up this year – and they’ve picked up quite a few.
FRUSTRATION FOR A MONDAY MORNING: The OCA hasn’t updated the results of the women’s regional playdowns on the web site. I’d love to report the winners, but Sunday’s final games aren’t posted. Ugh!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Mea Culpa and Skins thoughts

This morning, a bit of a mea culpa and a bit of a clarification. After yesterday’s post, I received an e-mail from Warren Hansen about the CCA’s involvement with the top teams being used for promotion.
He pointed out that the CCA has taken over the marketing of all the big events under its umbrella, not the local organizing committees as I sort of inferred.
As well, Hansen said the CCA has been using the athletes for promotion for a few years now, with this year being the most aggressive with both the Martin and Jones teams being contracted to promote the Timmies, the Scotties and the Trials. Guy Hemmings and Russ Howard are also under contract for the worlds.
Good to hear and glad that Warren cleared things up.
On to the Skins. I didn’t make it to Rama yesterday as I’m suffering with the flu. So I tuned in on the tube and watched the two games. Seems unfortunate that the conditions – ice and rocks – weren’t up to snuff and that led to a lot of uncharacteristic misses in both games -- how does Ben Hebert hog four shots?. I suppose the ice is understandable when you consider the make-shift arena but it sounds like a bit of an unforced error here -- too much chlorine in the water. And according to The Star's Brian McAndrew, the rocks were not fully tested. Not sure how someone can let that happen for a big televised event, but it's really a brain cramp. However, there many be more to the story in this one.
Anyhoo, as has been the case in past battles-of-the-sexes, Glenn Howard easily handled Jennifer Jones (although as she pointed out, she won more than Kevin Martin). All the hype was washed away in a flash. I don’t think it was so much of a case of men being superior as it was of one team just totally out-curling the other.
Poor Jennifer didn’t get much help in front of her and every end it seemed she was trying shots that had a very high degree of difficulty. I mean, that team really didn’t have it.
I do, however, think there were a few notable strategy lapses by the women and that’s understandable considering the limited Skins experience they have. For instance, in seven, I’m not sure why she didn’t just play it wide open and try to carry things over until the eighth. But hey. . . they’re world champs and I’m a lowly scribe.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

It's all about the players

I wonder if the CCA was watching and listening and viewing Thursday and Friday? If it was, then it would have seen what was probably the biggest onslaught of curling media in Canada’s largest city in some time.
Kevin Martin and Jennifer Jones, and to a lesser extent, Randy Ferbey and Glenn Howard, were everywhere, in promotion of the Casino Rama Skins Game. And in this city, that’s an achievement. They made all the papers – Sun, Star, Globe, Post. The were on Prime Time sports with Bob McCown, which is the most-listened-to sports radio show in the country, they were on Off the Record and also over on Sportsnet.
Now you might think this is all just the media clamoring to get some time with the curling stars, that they suspected they were coming into town and so called them up and booked interview time. But you would be wrong in this assumption, my friends.
The media tour was put in place by Martin’s agent, Lorraine Quartaro. She doggedly called up the ink-stained wretches and talking poodles, and made the arrangements (of course, it helped that TSN put Jones in the field against the boys, giving a good hook for the attention). And from what I understand, it wasn’t that hard – there was a lot of interest in talking to the two world champs. I was the first on Thursday morning and Jennifer told me she thought they had 12 appearances that day.
The reason I ask if the CCA was taking notice is two-fold: for years, the CCA has resisted using the players to market the events. Local organizing committees have used players (i.e. Jones on the front of a sailboat for this year’s Scotties in Victoria, John Morris pumping a curling-themed barbell for this year’s Timmies) but the CCA has always resisted that tact, saying the event itself is what sells, not the players (to be fair, this has loosened up a bit in recent years).
It’s also of note because this is Toronto, where curling participation is supposedly on the decline, at least that was the topic of an interesting front page story in The Curling News recently. But if Martin and Jones can stir up the Toronto media, then there is at least still interest in the roaring game in this town, if not as much actual rock-tossing.
And that bodes well for two things. The first is the Grand Slam slated for next fall at the Air Canada Centre (although we keep hearing rumours it’s going to move to the Ricoh Coliseum). That event will be the first major curling showcase in Toronto since the 1986 world championships. It’s unfortunate that it looks as if it will come during a nasty recession meaning the corporate involvement may be limited. Still, there’s interest here, at least from a media standpoint.
The second is that brass ring – a Brier in Toronto. The CCA would love to do that but it wants to make sure it will succeed. It can’t afford another Hamilton, financially speaking.
So what does this all come down to? It’s about the players, pure and simple. They make the events, they make the games, they make the broadcasts. Without them, there’s nothing. They are the stars and everyone needs to realize that.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Talking with Martin and Jones

This morning I had the chance to sit down with Jennifer Jones and Kevin Martin for an hour over coffee and chat about a variety of topics, starting with their appearance at this weekend’s Casino Rama Skins Game.
I’ve interviewed Kevin a thousand times going back to the early ‘90s and we have a good rapport; I haven’t spent that much time talking to Jennifer Jones but contrary to this report I found her, as in our past few talks, to be engaging, honest and open.
They were both in Toronto doing a whirlwind tour prior to heading up to the Casino for the big bucks shootout. I think they had a dozen interviews on tap including an appearance with Randy Ferbey and Glenn Howard on Off The Record, which is worth the watch -- check it out here. The best moment, for me, came when Michael Landsberg (who is one of the best interviewers in sports television -- just watch) asked the group if anyone else could do the Jeff Stoughton 360-spin delivery, to which Ferbey answered: "Not on purpose."
Without giving away everything I’m going to use in my Globe column for Saturday, here are a few great quotes from the interview:

Jones on the differences between men’s and women’s curling:
“The two biggest differences are the men can throw it harder, obviously, I mean they’re bigger, they’re stronger, and that’s a huge advantage in curling. They can make a ton of rocks go away in one shot whereas it might take us a couple. And the sweeping. You look at Ben and Marc, they’re unbelievable sweepers and I think Jill and Dawn are as good as it gets in women’s curling but Dawn’s probably less than 100 pounds.”

Martin on what he sees when he watches women’s curling:
“They’re naturally not as aggressive. It’s wired in, I think. They tend to be less aggressive, just every shot. It’s wired into their minds to be a little more cautious. It’s probably like they are in my house. My wife’s always the cautious one, who worries about everything whereas I just go “This is a good idea. Here we go.”

Jones on the women’s slams:
“We need to make our slams special and right now they’re just 32-team bonspiels that you regularly play in.”

On the right time to hold the Olympic Trials
Martin: “You could have it six months early, in April or March, that makes a lot of sense. Now you have the summertime to market your team and just to prepare.”
Jones: “I think it’s huge burden to put on people to get ready in two months. I’ve always thought March, April. There’s time in April.”

Oh and before we go. . . welcome back to the land of the living, Murray McCormick.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

WCF Reportedly Comes Out Of Nine-Year Coma

Great to hear that Sandra Schmirler has been awarded posthumously the Elmer Freytag Award. Sandra was an inspiration to many, myself included.
But come on, WCF . . . she passed away in 2000. Don’t you think you could have managed to make this award a little bit sooner? I mean, you’re telling me that there have been eight other people more deserving of this award than Sandra?
Some of the past winners include Roy Sinclair, the past WCF president who tucks his shirt into his underwear (can’t imagine how he won this award, can you)? Or Leslie Ingram-Brown? He’s some Scottish curler and volunteer reported to have one of the largest pin collections in the world?
Deserving? Maybe. More so than Sandra? Nope.
I’d tell you who some of the other winners are but the world’s worst web site for a major sporting organization – – doesn’t seem to have a list of them.
What a joke.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Things I'd Like To See in 2009

Happy New Year everyone. I hope your heads aren't banging too harshly this morning.

In keeping with the flip of the calendar, here are some things I'd like to see in this new year filled with opportunity and hope:

* Change national championships to eight ends. The time has come.

* Ed Werenich get his rightful spot in the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.

* The CRA realize it’s made a big mistake and lay off Wayne Middaugh et al.

* A huge turnout for the big curling shootout at the Air Canada Centre in October.

* The CCA begin working on a plan to take advantage of the hype that will be generated by the 2010 Olympics, That plan will allow curling clubs from coast to coast to capitalize on getting new members.

* The purses on the WCT to increase.

* More women’s teams to play aggressively, without fear of giving up a big end.

* Ontario to change its playdown system to reward the top competitive teams. Why a Glenn Howard has to play zones is beyond comprehension.

* The end of cheesy high school bands playing the music before draws at the Tim Hortons Brier and Scotties. It’s not cute any more, it’s third-rate. If you want to attract a younger demographic, end the Lawrence Welk stuff.

* The CCA to award the Brier to either Vancouver or Toronto.

* Hollywood Henderson get his three-peat at the Scotty Harpers.

* Curling to start attracting players from the many new Canadian communities across this country (but mainly in the big cities). It’s the whitest sport around, which isn’t the way the country looks any more.

* Allow people who take and pass – and pay for -- the course for officiating, to actually work national and regional championships. Seems there’s a clique that tends to work all the events while the newbies sit at home.

* Bill “Gravy” Graveland to come home safely from Afghanistan. Covering curling has got to be far less stressful.

* Me to get back on the ice and find that form that helped me win the third-event consolation at the 1978 St. George’s Junior Spiel.