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Canadian Curling Association ponders a bye for the Brier champion

03/11/2012 06:00 EDT | Updated 05/11/2012 05:12 EDT
SASKATOON - The Canadian men's and women's curling championships will look identical in the future, which means major changes to both, if the Canadian Curling Association has its way.

There are many scenarios that could be up for discussion at the CCA's annual general meeting in June, including having the defending champion make a return trip to the following year's Tim Hortons Brier, adding a Northern Ontario team to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and implementing a relegation round to keep each event a 12-team field.

"If it's brought forward, it's probably going to be the CCA board that's going to bring this forward," says Warren Hansen, the CCA's director of event operations. "I would assume it would be brought forward for this meeting in June."

It's always been awkward that the winner of the Brier is not afforded the same luxury as the winner of the Scotties, which is an automatic berth in the next year's championship. Also Northern Ontario has entered its own team in the men's championship since the first tournament in 1927.

The discrepancies are rooted in history, under the terms of amalgamation when the CCA absorbed the Canadian Ladies Curling Association in 1990. Neither side wanted to give up the team the other side didn't have, so the events continued as they were.

Operating under the premise it's easier to get agreement on adding teams, rather than eliminating them, each championship would get what the other already has.

"It makes sense to me that both those championship should look the same," Hansen said. "To have a team a year ahead for both events that we can use in marketing those events is huge.

"The Brier is the Brier, but particularly when we go into smaller markets, to be able to have a team we can put front and centre and put a face on that event for a year prior is a huge asset to making it successful."

An informal survey of some of the skips at the this year's Brier in Saskatoon brought no consensus on the subject of a defending champion getting a bye into the following year. Some approved, some disapproved and other said "ask the fans."

"I'm an old-schooler and I don't believe in it," Ontario skip Glen Howard said. "Obviously when you win your provincial you get a purple heart. I've always felt you should earn your purple heart.

"I just can't imagine hypothetically whoever wins the 2012 Brier gets another one handed to them. I think you should get a bye to your provincials. I do believe you should play hard to win your province to get to the national championship."

Manitoba's Rob Fowler supported the men getting what the women do for winning their national championship.

"I think that would absolutely be the right thing to do," he said. "I just think that it's a tremendous feat to win the Brier and I think the team that wins the Brier should be rewarded.

"I also think that from an advertising and a marketing standpoint, it's a great opportunity for a host committee to have flagship team to market and sell the event."

Since the women's champion gets a bye into the following year's Scotties, it's easier for that team to repeat at champion.

Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador worries what an automatic berth in the following year's Brier would do to the record book.

He wonders if people will understand how difficult it was for Alberta's Randy Ferbey and the Richardson brothers from Saskatchewan to win four in five years without the benefit of a bye.

"If you got the defending champion in there, records like the Richardsons' and Ferbey's with four Briers will be eliminated real quick because the tough thing for a guy like Kevin Martin when he wins is he's got to face Randy Ferbey and Kevin Koe the next year just to get out (of the province)," Gushue said.

The CCA is also under pressure to add teams to the Scotties and Brier to make them true inter-provincial competitions, with every province and territory represented.

Yukon and Northwest Territories are currently represented by one team, which curlers in the territories aren't happy about. It requires long and expensive travel for playoffs. The CCA may also have to accommodate Nunavut down the road.

Northwest Territories made a case for having their own team annually this year as Jamie Koe's Yellowknife made the playoffs. That was a first for a Territories team.

To keep each event a manageable 12 teams, a relegation round could be implemented on the Thursday prior to the Saturday's opening day, explained Hansen.

Working on the example of 14 teams, the two provinces or territories who didn't make into the main tournament the previous year could challenge the No. 12 team for the right to play in the main tournament.

"From the CCA's point of view, we're an advocate of a 12-team championship," Hansen said. "That's our position. The next question becomes, who are those 12 teams going to be and how do we get them?"

Even if these changes are approved by the provincial and territorial curling federations, they couldn't be implemented before 2014 and more likely for 2105, says Hansen.

Provinces and territories would be ranked by their accumulated performance over three years to determine who would have to play in that first relegation round.

Relegation likely won't go over well with teams that perennially finish at the bottom. Nova Scotia skip Jamie Murphy, whose team finished 10th here, has mixed feelings on these proposals.

"I like the idea of Team Canada for sure," he said. "If you win, you should have the right to be Team Canada for more than three weeks.

"I heard last week that this is the first year for relegation counting towards the bottom tier playing off. I was a little disappointed to hear about that."

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