UNBC will have to try, try again

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Apparently UNBC came a couple of percentage points shy of Canada West membership.

Unfortunately, close doesn’t cut it.

For the university, falling short of the required 75 per cent yes vote is a letdown for a variety of reasons.

It’s disappointing because of the anticipation, the waiting required before a decision was made. The UNBC bid team sent out its initial application in 2008. In 2009, the Canada West Universities Athletic Association (CWUAA) deferred making a decision for a year. A year ago, UNBC got denied membership, but was given the opportunity to reapply in December.

It’s saddening since it shows a lack of respect for a program which has only improved in the B.C. Colleges Athletic Association in the past three years.

It’s heartbreaking because they came extremely close, only to see key players in the decision vote against them.

And it’s frustrating since UNBC took steps to strengthen its bid, including the inclusion of soccer and proposal of an enhanced athletics budget.

Yet despite how the UNBC athletics department may feel, I’m not shocked. Disappointed yes, but not surprised.

In particular, I’m upset because I can guess where a few of those key “no” votes came from.

Southern B.C., I’m looking in your direction.

Routes are well established through the Okanagan, Lower Mainland and southern coast. But for teams flying from the three prairie provinces on a Pacific road swing, is it going to make much a difference in time and cost if you’re flying to Prince George as opposed to Vancouver? The answer is no, the difference would be minimal.

To southern B.C. residents, Prince George is known as a remote outpost, a northern city built on industry. Teams in the south like their close rivals, but dread making trips up north. In this case, there would be flights involved, but teams opposed to UNBC joining Canada West expressed a concern for increased travel time and costs.

These travel concerns raised by our southern counterparts are common in sports. Despite the success of basketball at UNBC, Prince George is still widely known as a hockey town. The Cougars have been around longer than the TimberWolves, the Spruce Kings longer than the Cougars and in comparing registration totals at the minor level, basketball doesn’t come close to hockey.

Yet, the challenges occur in the hockey rink too. Like the Cougars, the Spruce Kings are the only northern team in their division. With the loss of the Quesnel Millionaires, they’ll be taking on doubleheaders of their own. Making matters worse, both teams haven’t been on-ice success stories and have struggled with attendance.

That’s where the UNBC basketball teams are different. They win more games than they lose.

The men’s basketball team has competed in nationals the past three years. They captured the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association title last year in Calgary, and were fourth as hosts in 2009.

Although they’ve fallen under the shadow of the men in recent years, the women’s basketball team’s success in 2008 played no small role in boosting UNBC’s initial bid. They won the provincial title on home court that year before a sixth-place result at nationals.

As for soccer, in only its fourth season competing in the BCCAA, the men’s team won silver at the 2010 provincial championships. The women’s squad, although winless in 12 games last year, had secured commitments from players for next season. They have been trying to take the next step on the pitch.

Academically, UNBC has been recognized as one of the top institutions across the country. MacLeans Magazine ranks it among the top undergraduate small universities.

So what is the answer? More sports in the BCCAA, and expanded facilities including an all-weather outdoor field? Possibilities down the road perhaps, but they don’t appear to be on UNBC’s short-term bucket list.

Hoping to use Canada West to expand, UNBC will have to use its position as a well-respected BCCAA member to continue strengthening its sports department.

At the moment, that appears to be the only option.


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