Fixing the curling calendar
Originally posted Feb. 4, 2019.
What was the big curling event of the past weekend?
Was it the third leg of the Curling World Cup? How about the provincial qualifiers for the Scotties and the Brier? Maybe the made-for-TV Skins Game?
If you’re curling in Canada, the Scotties and the Brier take top priority. To explain this to an American audience — this is the equivalent of the U.S. Open Cup or FA Cup in the sense that it’s a national championship in which unheralded entries can beat the big names. Qualification for the national event, which is broadcast on TSN (and therefore to a U.S. audience on ESPN), is a tournament in each of Canada’s provinces. Qualifying for those events tends to be based on subregional qualifiers and the handy Canadian Team Ranking System — basically, the year-to-date Order of Merit.
This video looks like one of those shorts Mystery Science Theater 3000 plays before a feature.
It’s really wonderful. Check out the ESPN3 streams starting Feb. 16.
So the Skins Game proceeded this past weekend without any of the teams that were occupied with various qualifiers. Top-ranked Kevin Koe doesn’t have his Alberta qualifier until this week, so he was able to play in the Skins. Brad Jacobs, ranked second, had to take care of Brier business in Northern Ontario. Three top-eight teams were busy in Ontario, so №9 Reid Carruthers got the call. The women’s competition had four of the top six in Canada but not top-ranked Rachel Homan.
The World Cup? Canada sent seventh-ranked Matt Dunstone, who beat Sweden’s Niklas Edin to win the men’s event, and eighth-ranked Darcy Robertson, who duly lost all six of her games.
The Curling News is full of suggestions to revamp the calendar as well as the Scotties and the Brier. The jewels of Canadian curling have expanded to 16 teams each, incorporating all three of the sparsely populated northern provinces as well as a “wildcard” entry.
It’s a bit controversial because, as vast as those territories are, they’re rather sparsely populated. One survey of the population of Nunavut reports of population density of 0.0 per square kilometer.
The reason is pretty obvious. It’s cold. Really cold. Permanent polar vortex cold. From Nunavut Tourism: “The average temperature in Kugluktuk is the warmest in Nunavut, sometimes rising to 30°C in the summer and ranging from -15°C to -40°C in the winter.” The high end of that winter range is 5 degrees Fahrenheit. The low end, oddly enough, is -40 Fahrenheit. It’s the point at which they converge. It’s not better one province over. The average high temperature in January in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, is -6 degrees. Yes, Fahrenheit. The average low is -23. Regina, Saskatchewan, is downright tropical by comparison.
So this open national championship, along with its requisite qualifiers, is competing for space on the crowded curling calendar. The Scotties and Brier are part of the “Season of Champions” umbrella along with the “North America vs. the World” Continental Cup and the Canada Cup, for which the teams are determined entirely by rankings.
AND we have the Grand Slam of Curling, which has seven events of its own — one per month from September to January, then a Players’ Championship and Champions Cup right after the World Championships.
AND now we have the World Cup, a complicated four-event series in which teams represent their countries, sort of.
Naturally, I’ll have to add my own pet solution on top of the suggestions The Curling News and the Rocks Across the Pond podcast have made. I promise I’ll get to the power ranking update after that.
World Cup: Every four years. Obviously not the same year as the Olympics. Make it a Davis Cup/Ryder Cup/World Team Tennis sort of thing — country vs. country matchups in which men, women and mixed doubles teams face off.
Continental Cup: Odd years only. This already has a Ryder Cup vibe to it — North America vs. Europe.
It’s good to be inclusive, and part of the charm here is seeing teams repping their provinces. It’s less good to spend the first five days watching Rachel Homan, Kevin Koe, Jennifer Jones and company routing Nunavut.
For a couple of years, the Scotties and Brier had a play-in round for the lowest-ranked provinces based on previous years’ results. Bring it back. And cut back the number of teams by doing away with the Ontario/Northern Ontario split and the wildcard team.
(Alternate idea: Have one representative from the northern provinces and two from the Maritimes/Newfoundland and Labrador. Add in the defending champions and the six other provinces, and you’ve got 10 teams.)