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CIS Corner: York’s win over Ottawa suggests programs are going in opposite directions

Andrew Bucholtz
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The York Lions (red) took down the Ottawa Gee-Gees in CIS action Saturday.

A few years ago, it would have been unfathomable to view the results of a York Lions-Ottawa Gee Gees game as one of the most interesting in a particular week in CIS football. The Gee-Gees have long been an OUA powerhouse, while the Lions have been a perennial doormat. However, that's starting to change, and York's 47-36 thumping of Ottawa Saturday suggests there's a different story at work now. That's the story of both the Lions' rise and the Gee-Gees' downfall.

This is certainly a great moment for York, and that shouldn't be understated. It was the Lions' first home win since Warren Craney took over as head coach in 2010, and only their second overall win in that time; they went 0-8 in Craney's first season and 1-7 last year, so they've already matched their previous wins in the last two years. They played well Saturday and deserved the victory; fifth-year running back Kyle Exume (180 yards on 31 carries) and fourth-year quarterback Myles Gibbon (23 completions on 39 attempts, a 58.9 per cent completion rate, a for 341 yards and a touchdown, although he did throw two interceptions) were particularly impressive, but the whole team dominated the Gee-Gees.

The Lions' recruiting has shot up under Craney, the well-respected former Concordia defensive coordinator who's also been heavily involved with Football Canada (including this year's IFAF U-19 world champions and the 2009 IFAF U-19 silver medalists) and international football (he was the defensive coordinator for Team World at this year's USA Football International Bowl and helped hand the U.S. squad their first loss in that event). This win suggests Craney's high profile and strong recruiting classes may be setting the Lions back on the road towards respectability, and while that won't be an easy journey or a short one, this is a huge step for them.

What may be even more notable is the downfall of the Gee-Gees, though. For much of the last few decades, Ottawa's been a relatively good program. Sure, the Gee-Gees have only claimed four Yates Cups, and that's even less impressive than it sounds; their most recent title was 2006, one came in 1907 and their two in 1975 and 1976 were merely East Division titles, not Ontario championships. Ottawa did play in the OQIFC rather than the OUA from 1980 to 2000, though, and played in the Vanier Cup thrice during that span, winning once in 2000. They were pretty consistently solid over the last decade too, especially during the heyday of current Calgary Stampeders' quarterback Brad Sinopoli. Now, they look like a program in free-fall; they only picked up 86 passing yards on the day against the Lions (partly because they're running the old double-wing!), and 47-36 was probably a flattering score.

Losing to York by eleven points is never a good thing, but that's far from the Gee-Gees' only problem. Thanks to construction at Landsdowne Park to prepare the way for the CFL's return to Ottawa, the Gee-Gees are playing "home" games at a tiny field 50 kilometres from their campus this fall. Even more problematic, while cross-town rival Carleton's preparing to return to football in 2013 and loading up with strong hires like former Saint Mary's head coach Steve Sumurah, Ottawa's plummeted so low that head coach Jean-Philippe Asselin (who himself was a somewhat-unusual internal hire in 2010 following Denis Piché's resignation) left this offseason to take a demotion to offensive coordinator at Carleton. He did that despite the Ravens not playing until next season. As Yahoo!'s Neate Sager pointed out then, that move didn't bode well for the Gee-Gees' football prospects, and looked like "another signal of the shift in the power structure of CIS football away from some traditional powers." What's clear is that institutions like York are investing in their programs, hiring respected coaches and giving them the support they need, while the Gee-Gees have deteriorated to the point where their coaches leave for less-prominent positions at schools that aren't even currently playing football. If that shift continues, Ottawa might just turn into the new York.

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