Page playoff system prompts much debate

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:57 AM ET

Five days of curling. Eleven games.

It's a gruelling road to the playoffs.

The round-robin competition at the Scott Tournament of Hearts has come to an end. All that play and all that work and the first-place finisher -- in this case, the Kelly Scott rink of British Columbia --earns the right to play the second-place team in the Page playoff system.

Hardly seems fair.

If you have a day or so for a lively discussion, just mention the Page system to curling aficionados. You'll get an earful from both sides.

In 1995, at the Halifax Brier, the Canadian Curling Association adopted a four-team playoff format called the Page system. Under that system, four playoff games are guaranteed.

The additional two playoff games add gate revenues and dramatically increase television coverage.

The first-place round-robin finisher plays second-place in one playoff game. The third-place finisher plays the fourth-place finisher. The winner of first against second advances directly to the Hearts final on Sunday. The loser of that game will play the winner of the match between third- and fourth-place finishers.

The system was developed to reward the top round-robin finishers with a cushion in the playoffs. Losing one game doesn't mean the end of the road. And as already mentioned, money and ratings often supercede what's good for the players. The playoff games are when the crowds really start to come out and they make for good television.

But the debate over the format's merits began almost immediately.

Many believe the team that finishes first after a tough 11-game round-robin deserves more than just a date with the second-place team, even if a loss to that team doesn't mean elimination. The feeling is that if a team is good enough to win the round-robin, its ultimate reward is a spot directly in the final game.

Then there are those who believe the system where first plays fourth and second plays third is best. Lose once and you are done.

Still others think a playoff-ladder should be installed. The top team goes to the final while the fourth-place team plays the third-place team with the winner advancing to play the second-place team. The winner of that game plays the top finisher.

Colleen Jones, a six-time national champion who skips the Nova Scotia rink, is a proponent of the Page system the way it works now.

"I like it. There's no Page system in the Olympics or Worlds and that's terrible," said Jones. "You play No. 1 versus 4 and if you lose, you are done. That's nerve-racking. This way if you finish in the No. 1 or 2 spot, you get another crack at it."

Jones believes getting that second chance is enough of a reward for finishing at the top of the round-robin competition.

"Don't forget you get hammer and that's huge," she said.

Hammer gives you the last-rock advantage at the start of the game.

Scott finished first in round-robin play. She's only played the Page system at the Hearts, but she likes it. She doesn't believe going right to the final is a huge advantage.

"This way, it keeps you on the ice," said Scott, who is concerned that a team that plays its way into the final will have an advantage over a team that had to wait two days to play them.

No matter how heated the discussion and debates revolving around this format, there's no question curling's playoff system is better than most sports. It places a substantial reward on excellence, while eliminating teams that don't deserve to be there.

It's also a bonus for the crowd and television audience. They usually get teams that are close in talent and have earned their way into a playoff position. They deserve a shot at a championship.

They've also gone a long way toward eliminating the freak factor. In hockey, it's not unusual to see upsets in the first round. That's because there's enormous pressure on the top teams, while there's no pressure on the others.

When the Hearts final comes around Sunday, the favourite might not come away with the title, but you can be sure whoever does will deserve to wear the crown.


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