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Are the Huskies ready for the elite CIS teams?

With news out this week about a proposed national interlock schedule featuring the top teams in the CIS, which may start as early as the 2015 season, the question Huskie fans may be asking is: Are the Huskies ready to face the best from across the CIS?

The national interlock schedule is the idea of Huskie alum and benefactor David Dube and Canada West broadcaster and producer Jim Mullin.

As Kevin Mitchell explained in the December 26 edition of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, the initial interlock schedule would involve the top eight teams in the CIS playing two regular season games against non-conference opponents, hosting one game and traveling for the other. The games would count the same as those against conference opponents in the standings and would be televised nationally.

Will the best entrance in football be seen on national television next year? (Derek Mortensen/Electric Umbrella)

This is a tremendous opportunity for the CIS, featuring top-tier programs such as McMaster, Laval, Calgary and Guelph in weekly games, showing how far CIS football has progressed and how high the quality is. Currently, the only regular season games broadcast on a national network are RSEQ games on Radio-Canada, as Sportsnet backed out of showing OUA football on a weekly basis, while Shaw’s broadcasts are limited basis for Shaw and Shaw Direct customers, which are mostly in western Canada.

While die-hard CIS football fans will watch games from any conference featuring even the worst teams, Dube and Mullin know that expanding the reach of CIS football will require a national television deal. To get national broadcasters interested, showing Laval destroy Bishops or Western annihilate York will not work. Pitting the top teams in each region against each other will bring in a national broadcaster for one or two games as it will interest the casual fans who want to see Vanier Cup calibre games consistently, not just in November.

While there is much work to do to make this a reality, it is encouraging that people like Dube and Mullin, who care about CIS football and know the growth potential of the league, are stepping up with this initiative. Clearly, the CIS lacks the resources to market their top sport adequately and when an opportunity from a private investor who is willing to take on the risk to make the league a success comes along, it should be embraced by the CIS and every member school. This proposal will not only benefit the CIS, but also Canadian amateur football and, notably, student athletes in every school in the country.

Having private donors come in to assist, and often run, several aspects of a team or athletic department’s day-to-day operations has been beneficial to several programs across the country, with Saskatchewan being no exception. The marketing and communications of the Huskie football program were severely lacking prior to Dube’s involvement in the team and athletics department. Several institutional barriers are still holding Huskie Football from reaching its full potential in terms of marketing and communications, something the CIS would be wise to avoid with the interlock proposal, as half-measures and unnecessary restrictions would likely ensure the long-term failure of this initiative.

Should the national interlock be adopted for the 2015 season, would the Huskies be one of the “elite” teams in the country? Thanks to the Huskies’ second-place finish in 2014 and their 14 straight years in the playoffs, not to mention their lock on a spot in the CIS top ten over the last few years, they are certainly deserving of a spot in the inaugural year.

While the latest playoff disappointment will have a few Huskie fans wondering if the team is deserving of elite status and if they could hold their own with the top teams in the country, they did beat the Bisons last season and played the Dinos very close in their only meeting, giving Calgary their best game of the season outside of the games against Manitoba. The Huskies return a strong roster that, if they can bring down the number of unforced errors, will once again challenge for the Hardy Trophy. Coach Towriss has indicated there will be changes to the offence, with Scott Flory taking over the offensive coordinator position, and that he will be focusing his recruiting on the offensive line and all three areas of the defence, which should solidify an already good team and keep them amongst the top teams in the country.

Next week, we will look at the Huskies’ recruiting needs for 2015 and what they will need to do, personnel-wise, to secure their first Hardy Trophy in nine years.

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