CIS University Cup switching to single-elimination, but case for its unique format remains strong

A simpler format will not make more of the country care about the CIS University Cup, but it's on the way.

Men's hockey has long resisted falling into step with the rest of Canadian Interuniversity Sport by having a single-elimination national championship, rather than the current setup where a team can split its round-robin games and make the final based on goal differential. However, with CIS now in partnership with Sportsnet, almost all team sports (save football) are set to switch to an eight-team, one-and-done format.

So much of one of CIS hockey's charms. It will lose its safeguard against seeing a team's season-long dominance declared null and void due to one neutral-site loss à la the Wichita State basketball team, which was bounced from the NCAA Tournament on Sunday at around the same time on Sunday the Alberta Golden Bears won their record 14th University Cup with a 3-1 win over the host Saskatchewan Huskies. On Sunday, CIS men's hockey coaches association president Kevin Figsby told it is a "done deal" that the tournament will expand from six to eight teams. Sources have confirmed that the change also extends to CIS women's hockey, where McGill won the national title on March 16 by defeating Montreal in overtime.

From Evan Daum:

The CIS and Sportsnet will have true national semifinals thanks to the switch. The trade-off that traditionalists aren't warm to is that a team that was dominant like coach Ian Herbers' Golden Bears (25-2-1 in the regular season before sweeping its two Canada West playoff series before the nationals) could be knocked out by the third-best team from another conference.

In the traditional six-team format, teams are divvied into two round-robin pools. The high and low seed in each group play on the first day of the championship. The other team in each group plays the Day 1 loser first, then faces the winner in the de facto semifinal.

It's clear as mud to those steeped in the sport. But the possibility of a three-way tie in a pool removes the assurance of having a true national semifinal. That has happened in four of the past seven men's tournaments. The 2008 Golden Bears and 2012 McGill Redmen each won the title after reaching the final by virtue of goal differential. One can see why that is unappealing for TV purposes. From a competitive perspective, it arguably allows a top team to recover from an uncharacteristically poor showing to make it to the championship game.

Simple math also dictates that upsets and outlying outcomes are more prone to happening in a relatively low-scoring game such as hockey than in, say, basketball or volleyball. Uniformity isn't always the best for everyone, yet this is part of the great leap forward for the CIS under CEO Pierre Lafontaine.

With respect to men's hockey, what remains to be seen how is how the tournament berths will determined. One possibility is that Atlantic University Sport and Canada West will each get two, while Ontario University Athletics gets three since it also takes in Quebec schools and a host school fills out the field. A bronze-medal game will also be added.

The University Cup will be in Halifax for the next two seasons. The St. Francis Xavier X-Men have the automatic host team berth for 2015. The Saint Mary's Huskies will have it in '16.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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