A few weeks back I began this blog installment with the idea of linking Easter with the end of a curling teams season. It made sense at the time. Easter was originally a Pagan celebration of the world’s rebirth (Spring) after its annual death (Winter). Until Christianity turned it into a bizarre chocolate and candy celebration of the gruesome execution of a guy-who may or may not have been a deity’s son-who’s only crime, as I can see, was wanting to rid his country of foreign occupation.
But, like life, a funny thing happened on the way to the topic.
Curl BC happened. Again.
Now anyone who knows me understands that I am not a fan of how Curl BC and it’s titular head, Scott Braley, handle playdowns in this province. Since he got hired several years ago Braley has done little to address the declining participation and development of the competitive game in BC.
Instead, whether by design, or just dazzling incompetence, a once vibrant competitive environment and talent rich province has been reduced to one that now rarely, if ever, makes playoff rounds in National events, has at least 50% fewer competitive athletes than 10 years ago and watches its few remaining tour events struggle to stay alive.
And 5 weeks ago his office fired another broadside into an already floundering ship.
What did Curl BC do this time? Simple. It took a 6 year old women’s playdown system-that has failed miserably-and rubber stamped it on to other playdown categories in the province. All under the wonderful and misleading guise (as proclaimed on the Curl BC website) of:
“Curlers given opportunity to pilot test new playdown system”
So, just what is this system, its history and why is it so bad?
Glad you asked.
But before we start a little note. I believe in providing data to back up my statements rather than just spout opinion (although that worked great for Donald Trump. But I don’t have an orange comb over). In this case, participation numbers from the past 7 years of Women’s playdowns in BC. This data was stored and available to the public on the Playdowns.com website-until just recently. The Curl BC section of this site is now closed, per its owner Cary Blackburn-a former teammate-it just was not active. Although it’s more likely Curl BC just stopped paying him because they now post their own game by game results.
However, thanks to the archives on Curlingzone.com, a post on a BC thread back in 2012 contained the number of women’s teams who participated in the final year of the previous format. So I do have some validity to my claim that this new system is not new and an abject failure. But if you require more data then I suggest you contact Cary or Curl BC and request that the archive gets put back on line.
With that out of the way, let’s carry on shall we?
The Previous Format
Before the current format, BC women’s provincial finalists were chosen mainly through a system of geography based zone/district playdowns. Not overly ideal as it was usually one berth/district. Which doesn’t take into account population and participation. There could be 16 teams, for instance, battling it out for one spot in the Lower Mainland while only 2 teams might play off in a more remote part of the province. In the last year of this format, 2011-12, only 24 different teams signed up.
Not great numbers, by any stretch of the imagination. But, what this old system did provide was an equal chance for everyone to enter in their areas while keeping the costs of participating to a minimum. And, for the most part, we sent some very competitive teams to the nationals every year.
The Current Format
For the 2012-13 season a new system was unveiled. Against the protests of many curlers and their clubs, Curl BC eliminated the format of fixed regional play in women’s playdowns and, instead, created 4 open events with multiple direct berths to the Provincials. They also created an auto berth for the defending BC Champion.
The Defending Champ spot was a no brainer and one clamored for since the creation of the Team Canada berth for the Scott Tournament of Hearts. The problem was, and remains, the Open Events.
In a nutshell, these events were held at 4 different locations and times during the season, prior to the Provincials. The logic? 4 different locations and times would provide, so we were informed, multiple opportunities and equal access to everyone.
Does sound pretty logical, right? So what’s the kicker?
The kicker was you could enter as many of the Open Events as you wanted until you won a berth to provincials.
Still miss what I’m getting at? Because at first reading that sounds awesome doesn’t it? Four chances throughout the season to get a spot in Provincials. If you can’t grab a berth in this format then you don’t deserve to be in Provincials, right?
Yup. That pretty much sums it up. Until you start thinking about this format in just a little more detail. And then that little light bulb above your head is going to flash on.
With 4 dates scattered throughout the season instead of one, teams now had to make a difficult decision: choose between entering zone events or cashspiels. You might think that insignificant until you remember that cashspiels are an important environment where teams hone their games prior to playdowns. That is still true today, for both men and women.
Keep in mind also, that teams have limited money and time budgeted for spiels and playdowns. Sure, a zone entry fee might be lower than a cashspiel entry, but both take up about the same amount of resources to complete, requiring time-off plus the costs of travel, food and lodging. While you might get one of 2 berths to provincials as your prize, that’s it for your efforts. At the very least a cashspiel pays back money to more teams.
So teams were forced to choose. And a lot began to drop out of playdowns. Mostly teams in the interior of the province. Because this system favors, by accident or design, teams in the Lower Mainland.
Okay. Now that all of you Lower Mainlanders have calmed down, listen up. I don’t make that statement lightly. I lived in Vancouver for 28 years until I made good my escape. I know the benefits of playing in the GVRD compared to up here in the Okanagan because I enjoyed them. So whatever other invective you’ve just hurled my way you can’t argue that I am not aware of the advantage you have over the rest of the province: Location, location, location.
Don’t buy it yet? well, consider two facts: first, on any given season you might not ever have to spend a night in a bed other than your own. If zones and provincials are hosted by, say, the Royal City Curling Club in New Westminster you can drive home every night. You can even, currently, play in three small-but decent-cashspiels to prepare for playdowns; Cloverdale, Abbotsford and Maple Ridge all hold events. And you can drive home every night from those as well. Let’s also factor in the milder West Coast winters which means pretty safe, and short distance, driving throughout the season.
Second, want to travel to events outside the Lower Mainland? Well, living in close proximity to two busy international airports you have the cheapest airfare of anyone and, generally speaking, the shortest flights.
Don’t buy that? Let’s say you want to play in the Cranbrook Cash. You enjoy a selection of carriers and direct flights. Not so if you live in say, Terrace or other parts of the province. There’ll you pay more and you’re flying to Vancouver first to then sit on another plane to Cranbrook. Last time I checked there are very few direct flights from one interior city to another on any airline. But don’t take my word for it. Look up flights and the related costs on the Air Canada and West Jet sites yourselves-you’re all adults after all and it’ll open your eyes to reality outside the Lower Mainland.
And before you suggest driving, go to the Drive BC website and plunk in a few different destinations to get mileage and driving times, then imagine piloting your minivan on winding, snow-covered, two lane highways for 8-14 hours.
Island teams? Haven’t forgotten you guys either. I know all about the Ferry tax you get to pay just to start a journey or the extra airfare to enjoy a 20 minute hop from Victoria or Nanaimo to YVR.
Sufficiently chastened? I hope so. Because Lower Mainland women’s teams enjoy distinct advantages over their Interior and Island counterparts with the Open Event format. You incur lower financial and time costs to play than any other part of the province. This, generally speaking, enables the average LM team to enter more competitive and playdown events than the rest of the province.
Don’t buy that argument? well, the proof is in the numbers. Back when this Open Event format was launched it was proclaimed that it would stimulate and promote increased participation in playdowns. It has, in fact, done the reverse.
Remember the 24 teams that entered in the final season of the old format? Well this season it was a grand total of 14. If you factor out the Defending Champ and CTRS berths that number shrinks to 12. That’s a 50-58.3% loss for you number crunchers. Participation has dropped so much that Curl BC has had to eliminate 2 of the 4 Open Events with just one in the Interior and one on the Coast. With an 8 team field at Provincials that means we held two Events just to eliminate 6 teams.
Now maybe I’m just an ornery old curmudgeon and there are other factors at play which have contributed to the downturn in participation, but that sure doesn’t look like a successful or fair format to me. Certainly not one to impose on other playdown categories. However, I am an equal opportunity kinda guy. That means Curl BC should have a chance to explain their position and reasons for suddenly dropping this format on everyone else in the province.
With this in mind, I sent an email to the Director of Competitions and High Performance, Shannon Aleksic, with 5 questions regarding the ‘new’ format and a promise that I would print her replies, unedited, for you to read.
I have received her response and will post them in Part Two of this entry. Unfortunately and as usual, I’ve found it rare that a topic can be covered in one entry. There is simply too much ground to cover and information that you, as a reader, should be aware of.