It's been something that many fans of Canadian university football have wanted for a long, long time.
A plan has been conceived that would create the "Northern 8," a series of games featuring inter-conference play between the elite programs in the country.
In a nutshell the plan includes:
- Interlocking games that would count in conference standings.
- The four conference championship games would remain unchanged.
- The concept of tiering within a conference would be discarded.
- The 2015 season would consist of four Ontario teams, two Canada West teams and two teams from the Quebec conference.
- The Atlantic conference would be represented by its existing interlocking game with Quebec.
- In 2016, the Northern 8 would become the Northern 10, as two more teams are added based on the results of the 2015 season.
- The group would operate as a true conference, meaning the CIS would have oversight of the games.
CIS football is a highly entertaining product when the better teams in the country play head to head, but there have been far too many blowouts in games between the haves and the have-nots.
For example, in Ontario there were 43 regular season games played in 2014. Of those, 20 were decided by 31 or more points. That's 47 per cent of the conference's schedule being decided by at least four touchdowns and a field goal. Only 11 of the 43 games played, or 26 per cent of the schedule, were decided by two touchdowns or fewer.
Somehow, that has to change.
Selling the product is tough enough, but getting fans to buy into a sport with so many lopsided games is a tough sell to even the most hardcore fans. Promoting a game between Western and York isn't easy, but what about McMaster versus Calgary or Queen's versus Laval? All of a sudden the task becomes a lot easier, while the prospect of a closer game increases, as well.
The CIS currently lacks a national television contract for its regular season games. There is regional coverage in the Canada West, AUS and RSEQ conferences, while OUA games are streamed online via the conference's website. For the plan to work, someone would have to televise the interlocking games nationally. Right now, the CIS has a contract with Sportsnet to televise the Vanier Cup, along with the two national semi-final games, but that's it for national coverage. An interlocking schedule featuring the country's elite teams may be the only thing to spark interest as far as a national network is concerned. Airing regional games nationally doesn't work well.
The backers of the project have vowed to make this a non-profit venture. They would manage the air travel of the teams and all other business costs associated with the Northern 8.
Teams would pay $30K up front for airfare and the cost would be divided equally. Any donors would receive either advertising or a tax receipt. Schools would have to pay for their own hotel accommodations and ground travel. If there were to be any profit, it would be split among CIS teams who were not involved in the Northern 8 series.
The Canada West conference has already given the idea its approval. The OUA, the conference which would provide the most teams to the new conference, isn't ready to dive in just yet.
"We're certainly open to new ideas," Gord Grace, the OUA's chief executive officer, told TSN.ca. "From a CIS perspective, there's a group that's looking into it."
The group, dubbed the 'CIS Football Task Force,' has discussed the idea, but is far from accepting it. In fact, it's not even close to being at a voting stage yet.
"What I've seen is not really a proposal," said the CEO, "it's more of a concept."
Until then, Grace says it's business as usual and the idea that the Northern 8 will be ready to go in 2015 is more than a tad ambitious.
"It's impossible," Grace said. "We've already approved our schedule. We have to get on with things."
He added that if a team wanted to play a game on its bye week, that was okay, but added he hadn't heard directly from the Northern 8 group since December.
David Dube is the CEO of Concorde Group and the project partner of the Northern 8. He told Krown Countdown U, a show dedicated to CIS football appearing online and on Shaw TV, that the idea to grow the game nationally has been worked on for "a couple of years now."
"My role in it really was, aside from clearly making a commitment to be a funding partner, was really strategic," he said. "It was figuring out the practicality in this strategic vision, of what (does) a television contract look like? What does the schedule look like?"
The entire proposal seemingly relies on two major hurdles to be cleared - the approval of the CIS Football Task Force and the ability to show the games on national television.
Right now the Northern 8 has neither, but even though the odds of having this 'super conference' in place by 2015 seem to be nil, the passion and persistence of the group involved will not subside until all avenues are explored.