Canada West announces support for CIS football interlock plan, but OUA appears set to go ahead with their own schedule as normal

Fans of interconference CIS football matchups may have to wait for the playoffs and the Vanier Cup, as OUA appears set to nix interlock for this season. (2014 Vanier Cup photo from Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press.)
Fans of interconference CIS football matchups may have to wait for the playoffs and the Vanier Cup, as OUA appears set to nix interlock for this season. (2014 Vanier Cup photo from Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press.)

There's good news and bad news for those who want to see national interlock CIS football games in the near future. The "Northern 8" interlock project, first proposed in late December, has gained significant support, and it received perhaps its most notable endorsement to date this week at the Canada West winter meetings. However, news from other conferences suggests the plan may not happen this year, if at all.

First, let's explore the good news for the interlock plan. From Canada West's press release about the meetings, sent out Thursday:

The leadership welcomed Krown Countdown U Executive Producer Jim Mullin for a presentation of the Northern 8 Football Series proposal, a CIS football interlock project that Mullin and Saskatchewan businessman and former Saskatchewan Huskies football player David Dube have been working on. Mullin engaged in discussion with the Canada West Athletic Directors on a schedule that would feature Canada West teams against the best teams from the other conferences.

The association supports in principle the interlock schedule proposal that would create a national television schedule with the goal of growing Canadian university football.

“Our conference believes interlock play can add value to the student-athlete experience and provides an opportunity to create a meaningful product that can engage fans, alumni and media at the national level. We will continue to work with Northern 8 Football Series project partners David Dube and Jim Mullin to move the project forward at the national level,” said [Canada West executive director Diane] St-Denis.

Canada West will also work with Dube and Mullin on an initiative to promote the conference across various media platforms beginning in the spring of 2015.

So, one of the three conferences that would be involved in this plan has committed itself to supporting it (at least in principle), and that's a big step forward. We've previously seen qualified support of the idea from individual athletic directors and other leaders, but it's getting the conferences on side that's really important; they make the schedules, so they'll determine if this idea goes forward or not. This support at the conference level from Canada West may be the biggest development we've seen on this part,  and it's also notable that the Canada West release doesn't talk about doing this at a future date. They appear to be ready to jump on board now, so this could even conceivably happen this year. However, the question is if the other conferences will follow suit, and at the moment, there seem to be some significant hurdles there.

A particular challenge seems to be with Ontario University Athletics, which appears to be pushing ahead on getting its own schedule out (and thus, eliminating the chances of regular-season interlock in 2015). As noted by Scott Hastie of The CIS Blog, OUA released an Instagram video Friday revealing which two teams each of their teams won't play in the 2015 football season. They also discuss posting their full schedule this coming Tuesday. That's earlier than it's usually been revealed (Neate Sager noted here a while back that conference schedules are typically released in March), which would seem to be a curious move if there was actually intent to explore the idea of interlock this season. Judging by this, OUA at least doesn't want interlock this year, and it's not clear if they'll support it in the future.

It's somewhat odd that OUA seems to be providing much of the resistance, as they potentially have more to gain than anyone. The proposal calls for the initial involvement of four Ontario teams, two Canada West ones and two Quebec ones. (Atlantic University Sport teams aren't included in this, as they already have their own interlock with Quebec.) Yes, Ontario has 11 football teams to the six in both Canada West and Quebec, so it's close from a proportional standpoint (36 per cent of OUA teams would participate in the interlock under this plan, as compared to 33 per cent from the other conferences), but having four Ontario schools take part means OUA would gain double the amount of nationally-televised games compared to the other conferences. They don't seem particularly interested right now, though, and Quebec hasn't come out in firm support of this either. Thus, for the moment, Canada West stands alone.

Another factor that may be playing a role in the reluctance to jump on this interlock plan is the surprising January departure of CIS CEO Pierre Lafontaine after just two years. That means there's a void at the top of the Canadian university sports world for the moment. That isn't necessarily tied to how conferences view the idea of expanded interlock, and it certainly didn't stop Canada West from endorsing the idea. However, the other conferences may be waiting to see what's going to happen in the CIS leadership ranks before firmly committing to the idea of national play.

It's going to be interesting to watch and see what happens with this interlock plan. The idea has lots of merit from a media and fan standpoint, and Canada West's support for it illustrates that it has backers in the institutional ranks as well. However, for now, it seems unlikely we'll see national interlock in 2015. Things could still change, but the odds of this plan coming in this season appear long for the moment. The key question for the future of the interlock plan may be if this opposition is only about the idea of implementing it right away, or if it's opposition to the idea in general.