A Fix For the Scotties

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The proposed changes for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts are replicable for the Tim Hortons Brier and should be considered as also a blueprint for that tournament, though no specific mentions of the Brier are made in this entry.

The Scotties Tournament of Hearts is the Canadian women’s curling championship and for many years had twelve entries in the field (one from each of the country’s ten provinces, one which represented Yukon and the Northwest Territories, and the previous year’s champion as Team Canada). In 2014, Curling Canada decided to give individual entries to the three territories (Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut) and Northern Ontario (which already had a specific entry to the Brier on the men’s side), bringing the total number of participants to fifteen teams. Rather than create a new model for the tournament at that time, Curling Canada chose to implement a “pre-qualifier” involving the lowest-performing team from the previous Scotties (Northwest Territories) and the new entries of Nunavut, Northern Ontario, and Yukon for a single spot in the main draw, which Northern Ontario would earn. At the conclusion of that year’s event, British Columbia (as a result of finishing at the bottom of the table) was “relegated” to play in the following year’s pre-qualifier against the three teams which didn’t advance to the main draw. Relegation has been panned far and wide for its unfairness and how it treats those teams in the pre-qualifier as second-class citizens at the Scotties. In the 2015 off-season, Curling Canada stated that this form of the pre-qualifier would go away at the end of the current Olympic qualifying cycle (meaning after the 2017 tournament) but did not release a new model for the Scotties going forward.  As a fan and a sports administrator, I decided to take a look at what COULD be a new format for the event based on what I felt were non-negotiables that led to the current one, those being:

  • It would have to fit within the main draw’s current time frame of Saturday through the following Sunday (nine days)
  • There would be no more than 12 teams in “main” draw
  • It would be played on 4 sheets of ice
  • The tournament would be a single round-robin
  • There would be no more than 3 draws per day

In short, the post-2017 Scotties would have to fit within the model of the pre-2015 Scotties, but do it with three more teams and without the current pre-qualifier.  Where this led me is to the following solution.

Instead of trying to tweak the 15-teams-into-12-spots model, I decided to deconstruct the Scotties format using the constraints which Curling Canada seems to have within it (the non-negotiables) as a starting point. By removing the caveat that every province/territory must have an opportunity to compete for the national championship every year, I came up with a two-tournament structure that would fit within the current time frame, would provide maximum competitive opportunities for all teams at the event, and would maintain the uniqueness of the Scotties’ everyone-plays-everyone format. Thus, here is my proposal:

  • 10-team “main” draw
    * Team Canada
    * Next 6 finishers from previous Scotties/Brier
    * Host province for that year
    * Winner of previous year’s “B” tourney
    * Relegation playoff winner
  • 6-team “B” tourney
    * Remaining provinces
    * “Wild card” from last-chance spiel of selected provincial finalists (Year 1)
  • Promotion/Relegation
    * Lowest-ranked “eligible” finisher in main draw (TC, next year’s host not eligible) goes to “B” next year
    * “B” winner goes to main draw next year
    * “B” finalist plays second-bottom from main for main draw spot next year (if main draw participant is eligible)
  • Tourneys
    * Main draw is single round-robin with Page playoffs (1-2, 3-4), Semifinal, and Final
    * “B” tourney is double round-robin with Semifinal and Final (Top finisher in standings goes directly to final), to be held at nearby curling club with morning draws/playoffs at main arena
  • Last-Chance bonspiel
    * 4-to-6 rinks from provincial finalists based on regular season and provincial tourney performance (more weight on latter)
    * Wild card entry to “B” tourney in year 1, fills the slot in main or “B” draw in following years (slot can be promoted/relegated based on team performance)
    * Single round-robin with Final (4 or 5 teams), Semi/Final (6 teams)

All draws for the main tournament would be played in the afternoon and evening time slots with the exception of the Thursday ones, which would be morning and afternoon in order to accommodate the “B” final that evening.  The Page playoffs would be on Friday afternoon and evening, the relegation playoff on Saturday afternoon, the semifinal on Saturday evening, and the final on Sunday evening.  The “B” tournament would have round-robin draws Saturday through Tuesday, with the semifinal on Wednesday morning and final on Thursday evening at the main arena.

Does this solve all the problems with Canadian curling? Not in the least. Is it better than the current tweak-heavy format? In my opinion, it is. Will the politics of the game in Canada allow for it? I don’t know, as certain provinces and territories might be unhappy with the notion of having to earn the right to play for the Scotties title through previous performance. What response would the tournament’s television and sponsorship partners have to such a change? I would hope they would see the positives in more competitive play and more equitable opportunities for all participants while maintaining the current tournament broadcast window. Am I off my rocker? Let me know.

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