Monday Morning Coffey: The seven types of U SPORTS programs

Toronto, ON- This probably is not a surprise but there are a lot of athletic programs in U SPORTS. The entirety of U SPORTS makes up 56 schools across Canada and then if you subdivide by individual sport (broadly how many schools have a men’s or women’s basketball, hockey, soccer or volleyball team or a football team) there are over 265 individual programs. As someone deeply invested in U SPORTS myself though I have found that a lot of U SPORTS athletic programs share similar themes. That is to say in each sport you see the same type of teams and programs pop up.

So today we are breaking down the seven different types of U SPORTS programs and give each of them a likability rating out of 10 on how easy it is to support these teams and how annoying they are if you support other teams.

I’ll also add my 2019-2020 examples of each of these programs.

The underdog program that surprises everyone

Clutch triple sends Bishop's Gaiters to U Sports Final 8 Championship -  BasketballBuzz
The Gaiters celebrate their RSEQ Championship (BasketballBuzz.ca)
  • Mount Royal Cougars (Women’s Hockey)
  • Bishop’s Gaiters (Men’s Basketball)
  • Western Mustangs (Men’s Hockey)
  • Mount Royal Cougars (Men’s Soccer)

These are my favourite types of programs. This is the team that for most of their history has been underwhelming or average. They haven’t quite been at the bottom end of their league but they have never truly been a powerhouse. During the season they might start slowly and pick up steam in winter semester or right out of the gate they show the U SPORTS world that this season is going to be different. Sometimes their season peaks at just the right time and they ride the magical wave all the way to a Provincial or even a National Championship but other times the magic runs out and the school and their fans are just left with memories of a crazy run.

Likability: 10/10 – I don’t think it’s possible to dislike an underdog story, unless your team is the one that gets upset.

The program that has a consistently good regular seasons but is just not quite good enough in the playoffs

Brock Badgers on Twitter: "BREAKING: Brock Women's Volleyball is seeded No.  7 going into U SPORTS Championships. They will play No. 2 University of  Toronto on Friday at 1pm in Calgary. #WeAreBadgers…
Brock celebrates their Quigley Cup Semi-Final Victory (@BrockBadgers on Twitter)
  • Brock Badgers (Women’s Volleyball)
  • Ryerson Rams (Women’s Hockey)
  • Western Mustangs (Men’s Basketball)

For these programs, the season can be seen as an exercise in frustration or in hope it depends on your perspective. These are good programs that are usually in the top 3 to 5 of their division or conference. They usually have a strong run of play leading up to the playoffs but enter the playoffs not as a favourite. This is where they typically surprise and upset at least one team in a way that makes some noise. They don’t win a title but these are the teams that when they get knocked out in the semi-finals or even end up as runner ups you truly tip your hat to them since they only lost because there was just one or two other teams better than them.

Likability: 9/10 – If this is your school you love their fight to the end mentality and if this is an opponent you tip your hat to their work ethic.

The small school athletic program that inexplicably has a league superstar

UPEI Panthers guard Jenna Mae Ellsworth cuts down the net following her team’s 78-59 victory over the Acadia Axewomen in the AUS Final 6 women’s basketball championship final Sunday at Scotiabank Centre.   RYAN TAPLIN The Chronicle Herald
Ellsworth cuts down the net following the Panther’s AUS championship win (Ryan Taplin/The Chronicle Herald)
  • Lakehead Thunderwolves (Men’s Basketball)
  • UPEI Panthers (Women’s Basketball)
  • Victoria Vikes (Men’s Soccer)

    I’m not saying there is anything wrong with these schools, I’m just saying that there is something that always fascinates me when a league MVP ended up at a less known U SPORTS school. Maybe being a big city guy myself I just naturally assume that athletes want to go to big city schools. It is very enjoyable though when League MVPs from smaller schools are veterans in their senior years that worked their way up (like Jenna Mae Ellsworth), because those are players who have truly worked their way into the upper echelon of U SPORTS. Do these teams end up with titles? Sometimes both provincially and nationally but just like the little team that could, these teams have a sweetness to them that is hard to ignore

Likeability: 8.5/10 – Depends on who is the MVP, what the backstory is and whether they have destroyed the person ranking’s favourite team.

The new program that struggles enough you feel bad (but when they win everybody celebrates)

Hadeza Ismaila celebrates the Ridgebacks first win in program history ( Allan Fournier/Ontario Tech Athletics)
  • Trent Excalibur (Men’s and Women’s Volleyball)
  • Ontario Tech Ridgebacks (Men’s and Women’s Basketball)

    Some programs just are never going to have the talent to keep up with the high levels of U SPORTS athletic play. Sometimes it’s because they aren’t well established, sometimes it’s just plainly they aren’t very good. For these programs when they win, it almost feels like a win for your own school. When you see these teams celebrating breaking their losing streaks it makes you appreciate what you what have with your school but also makes you happy that another school’s fans get to be happy

Likeability: 8/10 – It’s hard to do a 10/10 for a team that inherently isn’t very good but when they win they become everyone’s second favourite team.

The program that just can’t seem to figure it out

Hawks fall to Huskies
Memorial Seahawks women’s volleyball (Memorial University Athletics)
  • York Lions (Football)
  • Waterloo Warriors (Men’s and Women’s Basketball)
  • Memorial Seahawks (Women’s Volleyball)
  • Brandon Bobcats (Women’s Basketball)

    For these programs, and there are more examples in each sport they just can’t seem to get it right. Each year they enter with hope that maybe this could be the year but by week three, it becomes evident that this year will be just another miss. It’s unfortunate because they do all the right things, they recruit players, they commit resources and it just doesn’t seem to work. These programs are typically left with two options, keep spinning the wheel and hope one of their recruits morphs into a superstar or sink into the abyss of being a “we’re just happy to be here” program. A lot of teams try for the former but some get forced into the latter.

Likability 5/10: – The likability of these programs is mixed it really depends on if you want to invest your energy in supporting a program that may not suceed.

The program that has a good season but finds a way to lose in playoffs

(Benjamin Steiner/49 Sports)
  • Ryerson Rams (Men’s Hockey)
  • Acadia Axewomen (Women’s Soccer)
  • Ottawa Gee-Gees (Men’s Basketball)

The big difference between this and the previous program is these teams aren’t as charming. (And yes, I am absolutely calling out my home team, five straight second round exits will do that). The thing about these programs is they often dominate in the regular season, you’ll see them finish in the top of their division or conference, they may even win a round or two. For these teams though, there is a point were inevitably, something always goes wrong. They suddenly can’t score, their defense turns into Swiss cheese everything collapses and they lose again. The other rarer situation is the program keeps running into their boogeyman opponent (eg: Toronto Maple Leafs vs Boston Bruins) but either way a team with aspirations of glory crashes before the finish line. You get the traditional sports quotes of how things went wrong and they’ll give it another shot next year but these are the hardest teams to continue to put your faith in.

Likability: 3/10 – Some of these teams are more earnest and just seem to be cursed and then some underperform their expectations so it really depends.

The Program That Never Stops Winning

Carleton celebrates their 15th National Title since 2003 (Val Wittu/U SPORTS)
  • Carleton Ravens (Men’s Basketball)
  • UNB Reds (Men’s Hockey)
  • UBC Thunderbirds (Men’s Soccer)
  • Trinity Western Spartans (Men’s Volleyball)

    You know these schools and these programs well. If you are a U SPORTS fan you get frustrated because seemingly no matter what you do, no matter how incredible your season is, suddenly they arrive to crush your dreams. They sometimes are even kind and give you a provincial championship only to decimate you in the U SPORTS National Tournament .Students from these schools even if they don’t follow the team closely will happily use another championship to dunk on their friends at other schools.

Likability Rating: 2/10 – Their own fans love them but it’s certainly hard to be liked by your opponents when you’re the team that always wins. These schools are probably too busy raising banners and lifting trophies to care about being likeable anyway though.

So those are my seven different types of Athletic Programs you’ll find in each U SPORTS sport. What did you think? Did I get them right? Is your school a type I’ve never even thought of? Left me know in the comments below.

Cover Photo: U SPORTS

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