CIS Corner: Don’t expect Vanier Cup-Grey Cup pairing to return any time soon

Pairing the CFL and CIS title games seems to have worked out extremely well for both leagues on the whole over the last two seasons, with Vanier Cup games in B.C. and Toronto two days ahead of the Grey Cup drawing tons of interest and ratings, but it's now starting to look like that partnership won't come back any time soon. The awarding of the 2013 Vanier Cup to Laval wasn't that surprising, as there are logistical questions with holding even one major championship in Regina, much less two. However, some figured the Vanier-Grey Cup pairing may return in 2014, and the controversial decision to award that Grey Cup to Vancouver would have made another pairing that year seem logical; the 2011 Vanier did well in that city, and Vancouver certainly can accommodate two big events in a week. A source told 55-Yard Line this week that the return of a Vanier Cup-Grey Cup pairing appears off the table right now, though, not just for 2014 but for the foreseeable future.

This seems odd when examined solely from the standpoint of CIS football. Pairing the Vanier Cup with the Grey Cup resulted in much more media and fan attention for the university championship, as Canada only has so many football media and so many football fans, and many of them tend to be at the Grey Cup. Holding the Vanier in the same city led to an incredible boost in media coverage of the game the last two years, and it also brought in plenty of new fans. Many CFL fans go not just for the Grey Cup, but for the whole week of festivities, and holding another football game on the Friday (traditionally quite a light day of CFL events) made perfect sense. Splitting up the two in 2013 seemed logical given the logistical issues at play in Regina, but doing so on a more permanent basis seems like a blow for the profile of CIS football.

When viewed in the context of the entire Canadian university sports landscape, though, there's some logic here. A source said it's believed that CIS will soon announce a television deal with Rogers for their high-profile championships in basketball, hockey, and yes, football. The Vanier Cup worked as a pairing with the Grey Cup when Bell-owned TSN held the Vanier Cup broadcast rights, but it would be exceptionally difficult to pair the two events if different companies were broadcasting the games. TSN's CFL contract expires following the 2013 season, but it's believed they're likely to land exclusive rights to the CFL again, and that deal could also be announced soon.

The CIS could have chosen TSN as their broadcast partner for the Vanier again, but the issue there is the other championships. There isn't believed to be a huge amount of TSN interest in CIS basketball or hockey, as TSN already has a ton of live sports properties and only two main English-language channels to split them across (TSN and TSN2). Meanwhile, Rogers has three main sports channels (their primary regional feeds, the cross-regional Sportsnet One and now The Score thanks to an August 2012 acquisition), but their programming stable doesn't seem as crowded overall. It's easier to see them being interested in those other CIS championships, especially as Sportsnet has a history with CIS hockey and The Score's known for its coverage of CIS basketball and football. If the plan's to put all CIS properties with one broadcast conglomerate, going with Rogers makes more sense than going with Bell, as that's probably best for the overall coverage of university sports. It may not prove as successful for football, though.

Is divorcing the Vanier Cup from the Grey Cup a huge problem for CIS football? Not necessarily. The quality of CIS football's improving all the time (the CFL's announcement of regional combines is a reflection of the growing talent in the CIS ranks), and the game is gaining more and more fans. CIS football and the Vanier Cup will still have an audience even without a Grey Cup pairing, and that audience could grow even further if Rogers elects to show more regular-season CIS coverage and build an audience in advance of the Vanier Cup. Of course, though, the 2011 and 2012 Vanier Cups played a major role in growing the CIS audience amongst those who are primarily fans of the CFL. Will those fans stick around when the Vanier's put in a different city and going head-to-head with Grey Cup events, rather than working together with them? We'll have to wait and see.

While splitting the Vanier and Grey Cups seems like something that could potentially hurt CIS football, though, it's worth remembering that CIS football doesn't seem to be the only thing involved here. Nothing's official yet, but if the Rogers deal comes to pass, that might make sense for CIS as a whole. It will be unfortunate for those who enjoyed the Vanier Cup-Grey Cup pairing, though, and it may not be the best move for CIS football alone. It's going to be interesting to see how the CIS broadcasting situation shakes out and how that impacts the university football game. For the moment, all that seems clear is that another Vanier Cup-Grey Cup pairing appears highly unlikely any time soon.