Curl BC Comes Close, But Misses the Broom, Again…sigh

I had dreams that this blog entry might be full of optimism and hope to coincide with the arrival of Spring. Why? because I had heard that changes were in the wind to my home province’s playdowns. Changes that were positive and addressing the issues raised by last year’s format.

Visions of BC curlers all joining hands on a sun-drenched hillside, wearing hippy clothing and dancing in a big circle while singing REM’s ‘Shiny Happy People’ sprung to mind. That image and catchy little tune was playing in my head when I saw the latest newsletter arrive in my email. And then came the sound of the needle being dragged across the entire album when I read it.

You know, that sudden end to a song because of a long, ‘SCCREECH-SCRAAATTCCHH’ sound? I’d been duped, once again.

Some of you might recall that a year ago I posted an entry entitled: ‘Curl BC Gets it Wrong-Again…’ Wherein I reviewed their brand new playdown format for the 2017-18 season and gave them a less than passing grade.

To recap briefly, last year’s Women’s and Junior playdown systems were blatant geographical discrimination.   By holding only two regional events in the Okanagan or Lower Mainland, it forced people residing in the North, Kootenays and Vancouver Island to incur more travel, time off and the related monetary costs of such, than the rest of the province.

The Men’s system, while keeping 5 regional events intact, introduced the notion of parachuting your team into any region you wanted. Don’t think your team is good enough to take on the others in your area? No problem, just enter into a different region where you think you’ll have an easier group of opponents.

And, if you succeeded in advancing to your provincial championship, the pittance you received from Curl BC-disguised as ‘prize money’-probably didn’t cover your gas bill to get to and from the site.

However, all this was pointed out in that blog entry (where in fairness, I gave Shannon Joanisse the opportunity to justify the changes through an email exchange, but her explanations left a lot to be desired) so you can check that entry if you want more detail.

As bad as the new formats were, I was taken by surprise when Curl BC suddenly announced the rollout of new formats for various playdowns. Which begged the question: why would they be changing it so drastically, so soon?

Well, I think there’s a few reasons. First, it’s pretty obvious that a whole bunch of BC curlers had some less than flattering things to say about last year’s format. Led, most likely, by a number of very pissed off parents who don’t like seeing their kids penalized because of where they live.

Second, last fall Dave Merklinger, Manager of the Vernon Curling Club and a respected Ice Maker and curler, fired a broadside at Curl BC over their continued failure to create BC Tours for Men and Women that would support events (and the clubs who host them) and help develop athletes. A mass email Dave sent out to BC curlers (and the two blog entries I made to promote the email-Dave Merklinger is an Unhappy Camper, Why a BCTRS is better than a BC Tour), stirred up a lot of discussion and questions.

So faced by an unruly combination of upset parents, clubs and curlers, Curl BC put its collective heads together and brainstormed a new system. One that comes tantalizingly close to doing the right things and then misses the mark, sadly, again.

It’s eerily reminiscent of the recent, last-ditch sales pitch BC Liberal leader Christy Clark made in her Throne Speech to try and hang on to power in a minority government. Remember? the one where she stole all the ideas from the NDP and Green party campaign platforms and tried to pass them off as her own? This new Playdown Format bears an uncanny resemblance to that speech in that almost everything curlers have called for is suddenly being given to them. Perhaps some people in the halls of the Richmond head office are hearing the sounds of approaching footsteps…

But, that’s a discussion for another time. Let’s get to the new format. I’m going to touch on the good things first, but keep in mind that we do not have all the information on how this is going to work. The devil, as the saying goes, is in the details. What looks initially promising might turn out to be lemon instead of a shiny sports car. And I know about lemons, I did briefly own a 1986 Chrysler Lebaron GTS sedan after all.

What They Got Right

First, and IMO most important, Curl BC reinstated regional zone events for Juniors. So now those kids and parents in the Kootenays, Island and the North don’t have to travel to the Okanagan or the Lower Mainland to play off. In short, they’re no longer being penalized for where they live.

Sure this looks positive. But I still shake my head in absolute disbelief that the executive allowed it to occur. What were they thinking at the time? So it’s great that the mistake was corrected, but it’s ridiculous-possibly inexcusable-that it happened. My mark for this assignment? A bare Pass.

Second, we finally (let me repeat that in caps; FINALLY) are getting BC Tours for the Men and Women. And rather than admit that clubs, curlers and events have been calling for this for over a decade, Curl BC touts this decision as being the result of the ‘success’ of the BC Junior Curling Tours. Yeesh, barf, whatever. Just get the damn things up and running.

Details about the tours are sketchy. We know that two teams from each tour will qualify for provincials, but they have yet to announce how events will qualify or how the points structure will work. Here’s my advice on events to Curl BC: Do not impose any qualification criteria on events for at least the first two years.

Why? well, have you looked at the events still barely hanging on in this province? Beggars can’t be choosers here. Impose a high mandatory entry fee or a 32 team minimum field size requirement and you’ll have no events on your tour. Spiels are struggling and need support so now is not the time for rigid, unrealistic and inflexible criteria.

And right now the only criteria for an event getting on the tour should be that it has a pulse.

What mark does Curl BC get for the Tours? Ten years ago it would’ve been an ‘A’. Now it’s reduced to a pending C-. Why? first, they took too long and, second, the lack of details (which is why the mark is pending). I hope with all my heart that the Tours work because they’re badly needed, but a decade ago would have been better. I have to be honest that it may be too late in the game for the Tours to save our spiels and revive interest. And if the rules surrounding them are ridiculous then they’re doomed to fail. Time (and a fools optimism that Curl BC will do the right things) will, I sincerely hope, prove me wrong.

What They Got Wrong

As a gentleman, it’s Ladies first. Curl BC realized (thanks probably to a huge parental backlash) it’s fumble and reinstated regional zones for the kids. Do they do it for the Women? Nope. So the gals are still stuck with two open events, held in the Okanagan and Lower Mainland, for teams who haven’t advanced to the Provincials via the tour berths (1 CTRS and 2 BC Tour) or they’re defending champ. The men still have 5 regional events. Why not the women? With entries in ladies stagnant partially because of the current format, why continue to exclude certain regions? Big thumbs down here for not opening up Ladies playdowns.

And as for the men, with the inclusion of the two BC Tour berths, why is there still the need for an Open Event? here’s the breakdown of Provincial berth allocation:

  • 1 Defending Champ Berth
  • 1 CTRS Berth
  • 2 BC Tour Berths
  • 7 Regional Event Berths (distributed based on entries/region)
  • 1 Open Event Berth

The Open Event will be potentially for only 1 spot? And just how many teams does Curl BC think would enter such an event? Now they do slip in the note that any cancelled regional events will see their berth added to the Open Event (ie, Scott Braley is hedging his bet that the North won’t have two entries next year). But the simple reality is the Open Event is totally unnecessary.

Four avenues to Provincials is enough for teams and dispels the worn out notion of having one bad weekend. If you can’t claim a CTRS, BC Tour spot, or a Regional berth, then truth is your year has probably been comprised of several, repeated bad weekends. So do you really deserve a pity spiel?

Why not just eliminate the Open Event and hold all the Regional events on the same weekend in January? It would sure make it an interesting decision for those teams considering a parachute leap into a different zone, wouldn’t it? It also leaves clear September to the end of December for teams to support and play Tour events while preparing for Playdowns in January. This is common sense that I think all can agree with. Then again, perhaps the fact that it’s common sense is the problem. Either way, another thumbs down for keeping an unneeded event alive.

Third, continued insistence on a minimum of two entries in a region in order to get a berth.

Let’s call it what it is: The North Clause. I get it, winning a berth by acclamation is not appealing to some curlers (read: a few whiners in the Lower Mainland-you know who you are) who are more concerned with who finishes last at provincials then rebuilding the size of our talent pool. But if you want to increase participation, penalizing teams who want to play and are the only entry in their region is not positive motivation to others in those areas.

Forcing those same teams to travel greater distances at higher costs to the next nearest regional event is also not a solution. Which is exactly what Curl BC did to a Prince George men’s team this year. You don’t pull that kind of stunt unless you’re subsidizing their trip, and I guarantee you that Curl BC gave them nothing to travel down to Vernon last December.

Look, if no one enters a regional event then fine, give the berth to the region with the highest number of entries. But if only one team enters, then give them the spot. Curling in BC won’t die because of it and now we’re including everyone. Which might result in increased participation.

True, I have nothing concrete to back that up. But is Curl BC’s system working? I think not. So doing something positive, rather than being dickwads towards those wanting to play, seems a pretty sensible notion. Try it for 5 lousy years and see what happens. At this stage, with things the way they are, what do we have to lose?

Seriously, I’m starting to run out of thumbs to turn down here.

Finally, Curl BC continues to go cheap with teams. Couple of years back they announced, with great fanfare, that instead of giving teams money based on the amount of miles they had to travel to get to provincials (it was 50 cents/kilometre) they would now give cash awards for winning a region and then more for high finishes at provincials. The cash award for regional wins? $300.00. Not even your entry fee back.

Don’t agree with me that Curl BC is all Scrooge McDuck? Talk with Jim Cotter. His daughter Jaelyn won the U18 provincials and the team travelled to New Brunswick for nationals. The trip cost, just for the kids and Jim as coach, is ran close to $10,000.00. Curl BC’s contribution to both the boys and girls teams? A measly $800.00 for each team. And no, that’s not a typo on my part.

Jim and the other parents ran all over Vernon trying to raise the money for their kids. During the final week of curling here, Jim and the girls sold 50/50 tickets every night at the club and by mid-week they had easily surpassed the paltry amount given to them by Curl BC.

I get that there isn’t an infinite amount of money in the coffers. I’m not totally stupid. But if you’re going to make any competitive team pay more to travel to a national event, don’t make it kids teams. Adults all have jobs and most-if not all-can cover a greater portion of the cost than four 17 year old girls.

Seriously Braley, open up that wallet. Blow out the dust, shoo away the moths and give the kids at least half of their costs. Or, is the payroll just too steep in Richmond? perhaps a little closer scrutiny of the books is in order?

So yet another huge thumbs down for the governing body. Now you see why I titled this blog the way I did. Oh so close to hitting the broom, but then so far off target. Just like last year. Sigh.

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