When the OHL made it official its geographical footprint would again stretch northeast to North Bay, it took about 30 seconds to spin that news off into talk about realigning the 20-team league.
That was downplayed at the time, which made sense. After all, (a) getting the North Bay Battalion re-situated after leaving Brampton was a big enough agenda item and (b) team governors, like you and I, are pattern beings who aren't going to rush headlong into change. There's always the fear of losing an accustomed rival and thus losing revenue. However, with expansion both unlikely (and unwise), the OHL will have to find some means of offering a new look. Plus there might be more willingness since the NHL has done it; monkey-see, monkey-do, you know.
From Mike Farwell:
Definitely discussed. Whether it passes Board another story RT @aheig82: hearing about OHL realignment for 2014-15, any truth to the rumour?
— Mike Farwell (@farwell_ohl) September 26, 2013
— Mike Farwell (@farwell_ohl) September 26, 2013
Farwell has his ear as close to the ground as anyone around the league, so it's not making a story out of nothing to comment on the possibility.
Here's what one can love and dislike about the possible realignment.
1. Shifting a Southern Ontario franchise to the Eastern Conference could balance out U.S. recruiting — Typically, the Western Conference has had more success recruiting from south of the border. Having three U.S. teams, three more in Canadian border cities and having well-heeled franchises in Kitchener and London is a big leg up. That pipeline isn't going to dry up; the opposite is more likely, in fact. That could further skew competitive balance in the long term. Perhaps having the Guelph Storm or Kitchener Rangers in the East spreads out the wealth.
The last seven OHL champions, and 11 of the past 12, have come out of the Western Conference, meaning there is a parity problem, period, full stop.
2. A Kitchener Rangers-London Knights OHL final? Yes, please — The league's flagship franchises are all stacked on the West side. That was never planned. It is just that the well-heeled and best-managed teams, such as London, Kitchener and Windsor during its Memorial Cup years, also happen to be in a region of Ontario whose population has grown over the past 10 to 20 years.
It has created an imbalance for the OHL, which makes for trouble selling the league outside of its customary niche. No doubt it and its media partners would love to have the possibility that marquee teams such as Kitchener and London could meet in the final. The Rangers probably still sell out even if they swap out a couple of division opponents by switching conferences. As a Central Division team, their three additional visits to the Hershey Centre could keep the Mississauga Steelheads flush. Just kidding.
The league could also create that possibility by adopting the 1-through-16 playoff format the Quebec League employs despite covering a much larger territory. Hard to see that happening when they have a corporate sponsor for the conference finals, though.
3. A North Division sounds great until the rubber literally meets the road — As luck would have it, this is a topic on a day when the schedule includes the first Owen Sound Attack-Barrie Colts matchup of the season. The two Central Ontario teams probably don't think of themselves as northern franchises and are thus quite happy to keep their six-game season series and their regular matchups.
Owen Sound to Sault Ste. Marie involves a nine-hour drive. The fact a team in the Quebec or Western league would snort at someone balking at driving that far is probably immaterial to Owen Sound, and Barrie.
4. Getting rid of the unbalanced schedule strikes a blow for integrity — Fans should come first. That was the good intention behind the various interconference derbies — the six Barrie-Owen Sound games, six between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury, six between Erie and Niagara and four between North Bay and the Soo. It creates the expectation of seeing a high-intensity game, which can help draw out more fans.
The unintended consequence is it affects the integrity of playoff races, which can hurt another team's chance to make bank during the playoffs. Is it really fair that Niagara has had four more games against the sputtering Erie Otters in each of the past two seasons than its Eastern Conference counterparts did?
5. At least it is being discussed — Awareness is always good, eh? A North Division might end up seeming too radical for some tastes, especially with Barrie and Owen Sound being 'not quite north' and 'nowhere near south.' Any compromise that does come out of this would help freshen up the league, even if it's something so simple as swapping a couple of the league's newer franchises.
A swap that makes the IceDogs and Otters, as well as the Attack and Colts, division rivals at least addresses some of the inequities mentioned in point 4. Breaking up the three U.S.-based franchises isn't a concern since teams never visit Erie and either Plymouth or Saginaw on the same road trip.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.