Vanier Cup deserving of better

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:34 AM ET

The Vanier Cup has no home next year, no sponsor and no respect.

It's a national championship game that's treated like a second-class citizen.

Before anyone starts harping about bringing the game to TD Waterhouse Stadium in London, remember this is a city that didn't support its university football team through an Ontario championship and a national semifinal.

With little more than 13,000 fans in Hamilton for the Vanier Cup between the Western Mustangs and Laval Rouge et Or, there's a pretty good argument that says the city didn't support the Mustangs in that game, either.

The exact number of tickets sold for the game at Ivor Wynne Stadium for the national university championship was 13,873. That's about 4,700 more than attend a regular-season, run-of-the-mill, Friday night, little-at-stake London Knights game at the John Labatt Centre.

You could call it embarrassing, but what's the point? If people don't care, then no amount of selling is going to make them feel any differently.

It can't be the product itself. Canadian university football provides plenty of entertainment.

They just can't sell it.

Canadian Interuniversity Sport has tried just about everything to make the game an attraction. That's part of the problem.

The game has been kept in one location. It's been moved. It's been played indoors and outdoors. It's been played on the same weekend and in the same location as the Grey Cup.

There have been too many changes and not enough tradition. Nothing much seems to work.

In this case, simple is always better.

As much as everyone goes gaga over the showcase that is the American bowl games and their national university championship, there's no way to emulate that. There isn't the money, the exposure or the sponsorships. It's a different animal. That system is all about the game and television. Two years ago, when Ohio State played for a national championship, it had to wait more than 50 days between games.

Those who run Canadian university football need to recognize that location is everything when it comes to a championship.

The only way to ensure a product sells is to ensure the home team is involved.

Every major international sporting event recognizes that. The World Cup and European soccer championships give an automatic berth to the host country, no matter how terrible the team is.

When the playoff system is based on single elimination, you can't guarantee a specific team makes the final, but there's nothing to say you can't guarantee the final will be played in a specific place involving the home team.

There was nothing special about last weekend's Vanier Cup that couldn't be organized in two weeks.

Find some alternative to the regular season that will allow the playoff season to end a week earlier, leaving two weeks to prepare for the Vanier Cup.

Since you know before the season begins which conferences will play in the semifinals, you can plan generally where the game will be played. It can alternate every year. For instance, this year Laval and Calgary played in the Uteck Bowl, while Saint Mary's played Western in the Mitchell Bowl. So the Vanier Cup could have been played at the home of the Mitchell Bowl winner. It can alternate depending on which conference and which team wins.

Once the semifinals are over, you begin to sell the game. This year it would have been Laval and Western. If the game was played at Western, you can put in temporary seating, but it doesn't have to be played in a 30,000-seat stadium. Creating a scarcity of tickets always creates greater demand and leaves one with the impression that it's an event worth attending.

Blocks of hotel rooms can be set aside and ticket sales initiated, along with press conferences and anything else needed to make this an attractive event. Most cities have major centres that are adept at putting together gala events relatively quickly.

If you don't like waiting two weeks between the semifinals and final game, conditional arrangements can be made beginning just after the semifinal teams have been decided.

It's different, but the same old thing isn't working.

The Vanier Cup deserves better than its been getting.


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