After hosting the last national championship in men’s basketball, Ryerson has placed bids to land the 2017 and 2018 Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.
The 2015 CIS men’s basketball Final 8 was the 53rd edition of the event, but only the first one ever held in Toronto.
“The buzz was electric in the building,” Rams men’s basketball interim head coach Patrick Tatham said. “We had Toronto Raptors in the stand. It was just surreal.”
The CIS’ communications manager Michel Bélanger agreed, “It was fantastic.”
Bélanger was impressed by the national media coverage in Toronto. Reporters from every major news outlet showed up regularly, which he admits doesn’t happen in every CIS championship host city. But more than exposure, Bélanger attributes Ryerson’s success to its venue, the Mattamy Athletic Centre, which expanded to a capacity of 4,000 – the perfect size for the event, according to the CIS spokesman.
“Ryerson wanted to make the event a success,” Bélanger said. “They did everything they could to make the event a success, with the marketing, promotion and pre-championship. It was absolutely amazing.”
While the Rams took home the bronze medal, they proved to be a golden host.
“We would be confident now going to Ryerson with pretty much any of our championships, whether it’s men’s hockey down the road at some point or even men’s or women’s basketball,” Bélanger said. “We would absolutely be confident in their organization. Both Ryerson and people from the Mattamy Athletic Centre were amazing people to work with.”
Ryerson’s athletic director Ivan Joseph spearheaded the bids, daring to go where nobody has gone before. “We’re saying we can host both championships at the same time at the same venue,” Joseph said. “There may be some interest in that and maybe the CIS will say, ‘You know what? That’s worth the risk. Let’s see how they do it.’
“For me, hosting another championship is an opportunity to continue to build on the university’s outstanding reputation across the nation.”
Ryerson is up against a joint bid from its Ontario University Athletics (OUA) rivals Carleton and Ottawa, as well as Dalhousie and Acadia for the next two men’s basketball national championship tournaments.
Bélanger said the main factors in selecting a host are geography, strength of program and venue in terms of its size, TV-friendliness and facilities. The venue has to big enough to make the event spectacular, but not so big that it won’t be filled. Empty seats are unsightly, especially on national television. This wasn’t a problem at Ryerson last season.
“Obviously our broadcasting partner, Sportsnet, was thrilled with the crowds at Ryerson. It looked fantastic on TV,” Bélanger said.
The CIS also considers the strength of the program, leaning toward a host that’ll make it to at least the semifinals to ensure the home crowd stays interested. Ryerson won its bid to host the 2015 CIS Final 8 in part because its men’s basketball team was projected to be a championship contender. They finished tied for the OUA’s second-best record at 17-2, ranking third nationally.
The student-athlete experience is important to the CIS, which seeks a host with a plan to engage fans, one that can guarantee it’ll fill the venue and has a marketing and promotional plan to back it up. It wants a host that’ll throw an entertaining awards banquet and wow the student-athletes.
This is consistent with Ryerson’s goal as hosts, which Joseph said is to sell out each event and astonish every guest. He also sees these events as opportunities to showcase the work of Ryerson students off the court. Journalism students covered the tournament in March while students from the Sport Media program helped with the TV broadcast.
Bélanger said Ryerson excelled in each of those facets when it hosted the latest men’s tournament. However, the university has never hosted the women’s tournament because the team hasn’t been in position to win – until now.
“We don’t want to just host and participate, we want to have a chance to win a championship,” Rams women’s basketball head coach Carly Clarke said. “We feel our program is in a place now where we can do that.”
She’s confident, based on Ryerson’s handling of the men’s tournament last season, that the university can shine as hosts of the women’s tournament. It’s competing against Alberta, Queen’s, Regina and Victoria for the chance to host one of the 2017 or 2018 events.
Hosting would guarantee Clarke’s squad a berth in the tournament, though it doesn’t seem to need the help. The Rams are coming off their most successful season to date: they finished with a 16-3 record, good for first in the OUA East, and took home OUA silver. They made their first appearance in program history at the CIS championship, finishing sixth.
Chances are, the performance wasn’t a flash in the pan. Rookies and sophomores made up half that team, and they’ll be seniors during the years Ryerson submitted bids to host the tournament.
“I think their experience will continue to grow and they’ll have that under their belt, so I think we’d be in good position to improve on [the sixth-place finish] for sure,” Clarke said.
“Winning the bid would be super exciting. Obviously it would say a lot about the reputation of Ryerson University and Ryerson Athletics and how far we’ve come.”
That reputation received a boost last year when NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton made international headlines as Ryerson’s keynote speaker. Joseph said the university has more tricks up its sleeve to top that.
“Ultimately our job is to exceed last year’s bid and performance. When you do that, you’ll get people talking about you.”
The CIS will announce the hosts by mid-October. The University of British Columbia will host the 2016 men’s basketball Final 8 while University of New Brunswick will host the upcoming women’s basketball tournament.