CIS Men’s Final 8 Considered a Success with Toronto Sports Fans


CIS Men’s Final 8 Considered a Success with Toronto Sports Fans

For the first time in my life, I had the opportunity to attend the CIS Men’s Final 8 National Championship this past weekend being held here in Toronto, at Maple Leaf Gardens/the Mattamy Athletics Center at Ryerson University.

It was a crazy weekend that had some of the best talent of the country showcase their skills, and more than a few media outlets were on hand to cover the action.

I had a rare opportunity as a hoops fan to take in all the games from the media tables, and speak with some of the leading minds in the game from this country, this is what I saw.

The Tournament


For Ryerson’s first game the place wasn’t sold out, but the crowd was rocking and the players were ready. The Ryerson and Windsor game turned out to be an 82-68 win for the host Rams.

Despite all the theatrics and opening ceremonies before that game, it would be Bishop’s Gaiters and The University of Ottawa GeeGee’s that stole the show on Thursday night.

The two would battle it out to the background noise of the Bishop’s alumni that took up entire sections of the arena. The Sherbrooke, Quebec faithful clapped their hands, banged their clappers, and made so much noise that me and a few of my friends, having no real allegiance to either team, got swept up in the moment and had no other choice but to move to the other side of the building and join them.

It was well worth the walk, as we witnessed a 91-85 overtime thriller for the Gee-Gee’s that unfortunately meant the end of Bishop’s championship hopes just before they seemingly begun.

A sad start to the tournament, but the party had just begun.


A sparse crowd on hand for Saturday’s consolation game between the University of Saskatchewan Huskies and the University of Windsor Lancers. (Photo: Ryan Greco)

A few media people would tell me on the Friday while the consolation games were being played, that it was a shame Bishop’s didn’t advance to Saturday. They argued it would have been better for business with more rabid basketball fans in the building, and people watching on TV to see such passion in Canadian hoops.

With the sparse crowds on hand for the 2 and 4 pm games on the Friday, some feared the worst, and that this could be the result of fan support for the rest of the tournament.

But as Saturday rolled around, all fears that this tournament might be under attended were blown out of the water.


The only game on the Saturday with a low attendance was the consolation title game between two teams that were simply playing for pride and out of contention.

But even in front of the sparse crowd that saw the Saskatchewan Huskies defeat the Windsor Lancers for the consolation bracket championship, Huskies Power Forward Matthew Forbes still loved the idea of playing in Toronto.

“It was great that the hotels were right across the street and it took us just 15 seconds to walk over and watch a game or play, as opposed to something like a 45 minute bus ride,” Forbes went on to say “it’s always neat to look at the history aspect of playing in a building like this is, and overall the atmosphere was great in our time here.”

That history in this building includes being the birthplace of the NBA.

It’s hard to imagine that the formerly known Maple Leaf Gardens, known so well for its hockey history, was actually also the home of the first ever NBA game, between the New York Knicks and the Toronto Huskies back on November 1, 1946.

It’s a proud honour that I honestly believe is not mentioned and promoted enough both in the building, which fails to mention it on its wall of history when you first walk into the main entrance, and around Canada in general.

Anyway, despite the low attendance for the free entry game at 2pm on Saturday, the crowds only got larger and louder the rest of the day with the two semi-final games scheduled for 6 and 8:30 pm later that night.

The Carleton Ravens and the University of Victoria Vikes were up first, where I had an opportunity to see the Carleton Ravens’ Scrubb brothers, Philip and Thomas, for the first time. The two have been highly touted as the best prospects to come out of the CIS, possibly ever.

The Scrubb’s made a case all tournament long for that statement, with Philip dropping 29 points while his brother Thomas pulled down 12 rebounds in an 83-74 win for the Ravens, but more on them later.

The loudest and by far most heavily packed game to that point in the tournament followed right after at 8:30pm.

The host team the Ryerson Rams took on the University of Ottawa Gee-Gee’s for the right to play Carleton in the gold medal game the following day, with the loser taking on the University of Victoria for the bronze.

Toronto fans came out in full support of Ryerson University’s semi final appearance on Saturday in the form of a record breaking crowd of just under 5,000 people for a Rams basketball game. (Photo: Ryan Greco)

The crowd was nearly sold out, as just fewer than 5,000 people poured into the Maple Leaf Gardens in a show of support for Canadian university basketball that I have never seen before in this city.


Some CIS officials and coaches can point to a game like that and tell would be recruits, like some that were in attendance during the whole event, that this is what the CIS is all about.

But the truth is games like the ones on Saturday and Sunday are the exception, not the rule.

Coach Roy Rana speaks to his team during a timeout against the Windsor Lancers. Ryerson would go on to win their tournament opener 82-68 and finish the tournament with a bronze medal. (Photo: Ryan Greco/Getty Images)

Host Ryerson head coach Roy Rana, who is in his sixth year with the Rams, agreed with that way of thinking after winning the bronze medal in an 82-68 win on Sunday over the Victoria Vikes on the final day of the tournament, saying, “last night (Saturday) was magical and I think it spoke to what the CIS could become with a tournament like this. But I still think we have a way to go before we can start convincing younger players who are getting offers from the US to prefer coming to a school like ours.”

Coach Rana would know better than almost any coach in the CIS, as he has also been the head coach of the Canadian men’s junior national team for three years now, giving him an excessive amount of time and access to the very players who would be looking to go state side.

Sportsnet radio and TV personality Tim Micallef, who did the national play-by-play for the Gold medal game on Sportsnet 360, alongside veteran Sportsnet broadcaster Paul Jones, gave another interesting take on the subject of CIS vs. NCAA basketball recruiting, saying, “I think the elite level high school athletes will choose elite level NCAA schools nine times out of ten and I have no problem with that. The question becomes does the small school in the states develop your game and give you a better education? The answer is becoming more and more…no. European pro leagues have recognized it, but the truth is until the NBA does (recognize it as well), that stigma that any NCAA school is better than the CIS will always exist. The truth is always as sexy, but the CIS at the elite level is much better than most give it credit for.”


As “magical” as the Ryerson semi-final was, the energy in the building was just as loud and the arena was just as packed for the gold medal game the following day.

Which I might add, was between two schools based out of rival city Ottawa.

Once again, Toronto sports fans made up the majority of a near sell-out crowd to watch a basketball game between two university schools from a rival sports city!

Unfortunately, the game itself was a laugher, Carleton led by as much as 47 in the fourth, and claimed their 11th title in 13 years by a final of 97-46 over the University of Ottawa Gee-Gee’s. In fact, the most dramatic thing to happen the whole game was the questionable ejection of Ottawa Head Coach James Derouin, after two technical fouls on his team in the third quarter.

Phillip Scrubb (23) and the rest of the Carleton Ravens just before they re-take the court in a 93-46 rout over the Ottawa Gee-Gee’s during the CIS gold medal game on Sunday. (Photo: Ryan Greco)

When asked about the ejection, Coach Derouin chalked it up to “trying to get something going for the team. I’m always cognizant of what I’m doing. I would never get thrown out of a game like this regardless of the score,. The only thing I could say is I apologize to the University (of Ottawa) and I didn’t mean to disrespect the officials, and that’s all I can really say.”

Finals MVP Phillip Scrubb showed once again why he will likely be a part of Canada’s Pan-Am team coming up this summer alongside NBA players such as Corey Joseph, Tristan Thompson, and possibly Andrew Wiggins. Scrubb finished the game with 28 points, 10 assists, and 3 rebounds.

Scrubb also made about four shots during the game that no one else in the tournament could have made, including an acrobatic layup in the second quarter that sent him crashing to the floor on top of a Gee-Gee defender.

Head Coach of the Ravens, Dave Smart, felt Scrubb will be up to the task come August, saying “it depends who makes the commitment this summer, I feel like they (the Scrubb Brothers) could compete as they already did last year during the national teams European tour. Overall though they are right there with any of the Canadian kids currently in the NCAA.”

The Carleton Ravens storm the court for their 11th CIS men’s basketball title in 13 years. (Photo: Ryan Greco)

The Aftermath

I’ve had a chance to go to a few CIS games over the course of this year and believe me, in smaller intimate gyms the crowds are indeed full of energy and the games can be entertaining.

What a lot of people around the CIS are hoping for is that this tournament can be the first step out of those smaller gyms, and into larger 5,000 and 10,000 seat arenas like the one here at the Mattamy Athletic Center, which is normally a hockey rink for the rest of the year save for a few high school and college basketball tournaments.

Needing a more experienced set of eyes for the level of play I just witnessed, I referred back to Tim Micallef, who responded by saying, “The talent level is near an all-time high,”

When asked if he could see Toronto sports fans showing the same kind of support for something like this on a regular basis, Micallef responded “the Toronto basketball fan…maybe. The Toronto sports fan will take much longer.  Right now it is a bit of a niche, but this (tournament) I think started to open a few of those doors. I think a return (to Toronto) is definitely in the cards.  The venue is near perfect for the sport right now and the coverage from national basketball writers was unmatched.”

Despite his praise for the Gardens and Ryerson’s efforts in promoting the event, Micallef stopped just short of calling it a complete success. When asked to compare it to some of the other CIS games and tournaments he’s been a part of throughout his career, he said, “while the promotion was there, the turn out was average to below average.   Remember this event is usually in much bigger buildings, but the intimacy added to the event.”

It is true in a sense, despite the amazing energy for about half of the games, the other half were played in front of sparse crowds with more empty seats than filled. Even the nationally televised Ryerson-Ottawa semi-final and Carleton-Ottawa Gold Medal games that I have been raving about in this article, were not sellouts.

Normally, the Ryerson Rams basketball team plays on the Coca Cola court downstairs, a smaller, 1,000 seat venue that was converted into an activity area during the CIS Men’s Final 8 this weekend. The gym featured many different activities and autograph sessions attended by former Toronto Raptors GM Glen Grunwald, former Toronto Raptors head coach Butch Carter, and even an appearance of the NBA’s Larry O’Brien trophy itself on gold medal Sunday.

The Final Verdict

The Larry O’Brien Trophy was on full display during Championship Sunday at the Mattamy Athletics Center. (Photo: Ryan Greco)

You can definitely see the effort everyone involved has put into this four day tournament to make it a prime time event, which seems to be the only thing Toronto sports fans ever respond to.

From an organizational perspective, the CIS Men’s Final 8 was pulled off flawlessly this year. They did almost everything they could to get the word out with the budget they had, while the arena was immaculately clean and well run.

Local celebrities and media turned out in droves, you could even see a few Toronto Raptors coming out and showing their supports during the Ryerson games, such as Amir Johnson, Bruno Caboclo, and Greivis Vasquez just to name a few.

The games themselves were competitive despite the one-sided gold medal game, and the overall atmosphere that the fans brought was one of passion and intensity.

The only issue I really noticed with this tournament, was the odd start times of certain games, like the 2:00pm consolation game on the Friday, and the 11:30am Bronze medal game. Both games I believe could have warranted larger crowds had they been pushed back a few hours.

All you really need to know is that when Toronto’s only university in the tournament, Ryerson, was playing, fans showed up and they were loud.

The only way I could ever see this tournament growing to the level at which its organizers want to see it at, in the next 10-20 years, would be if they kept it in Toronto at least every other year or so, and continue to bring in the high profile sponsors, broadcasters, and celebrities that took part in it this year.

The CIS will crunch the numbers on this one for the next few weeks and check the TV ratings, but from a fans perspective, even a jaded Toronto one, you couldn’t have asked for the CIS Men’s Final 8 to go much better than how it did this year.