Saturday, 13 August 2022

A Prairie Rivalry

If you're a fan of Canada West sports, you likely are aware of a competition between two schools in Calgary that pits those schools against one another for the right to be called "best in Calgary". The Crowchild Classic happens annually in Calgary as the University of Calgary Dinos and Mount Royal Cougars go to battle to prove which Canada West school is best that year, and it's always a good time on both sides of the competition for fans, students, faculty, and alumni. Today, we learned another set of teams will engage in a competition while competing with bragging rights for a province on the line!

The University of Saskatchewan Huskies and University of Regina Cougars/Rams teams will face off in the first-ever U-Prairie Challenge this school year for bragging rights as one of them looks to claim the "best athletics school" this season! The schools' football, hockey, soccer, basketball and volleyball teams will be represented as women's soccer opens the newly-founded competition on September 2 in Saskatoon before wrapping up the inter-university battle on February 4 as the women's hockey teams will compete for a final time at Merlis Belsher Place in Saskatoon while the men's hockey teams will face-off at The Co-Operaters Centre in Regina!

"This Challenge will offer new opportunities to connect, compete, and celebrate, building pride in our programs and opening the door to new fans and new supporters, as we highlight and spotlight one of the best rivalries in the country," said USask President Peter Stoicheff. "Like the Cougars and Rams, our Huskie student-athletes are outstanding players and also wonderful ambassadors for our university every time they put on a jersey. We are extremely proud of their efforts, on the field and the track, in the gymnasium and the arena, and in our classrooms, labs and research facilities."

I went looking for a quotation from a University of Regina administrator, but they seem to be keeping a lower profile than the Huskies when it comes to making statements. Nonetheless, as the Huskies' release stated, "the initiative also signals a new partnership between the programs, as USask and U of R team up to bring new exposure to university athletics and generate new fans and followers, supporters and sponsors" which will only help bring more eyes and, ultimately, dollars to the university athletic programs at both institutions.

Both schools began competing against one another in 1968 while the University of Regina was still a campus under the University of Saskatchewan's control despite operating indepenedently. Regina Campus, as it was called, broke away from the University of Saskatchewan in 1974 after an extensive review involving the Surpreme Court of Canada following complaints that there had been no investment by the University of Saskatchewan in the Regina Campus. Needless to say, the history and evolution between these two schools are tightly intertwined, so this makes the competition even more meaningful when the history is baked into the equation!

What makes this rivalry fun this season with the new U-Prairie Challenge twist is that "the new competition will also feature an enhanced experience for fans, with the opening and closing games also including concerts and other entertainment and activities". As a guy who has been preaching for years about improving the gameday experience at university events, this sounds like the two Saskatchewan-based universities understand that they're selling more than just a game. This is precisely the "shot in the arm" that university in sports needs in Canada, and my hope is that it becomes more NCAA-esque in both its execution and presentation as this competition builds season after season.

The first hockey battles will happen on November 3 and 4 as the Regina Cougars women's team visits Merlis Belsher Place while the men's Huskies team heads to The Co-Operators Centre. Because these teams swap places thanks to the interprovincial travel, the Huskies women's team will be in Regina on November 4 while the Cougars men's team visits Saskatoon on the same night.

That leads to the February games in the schedule where the men's series starts in Saskatoon at Merlis Belsher Place and the women's series starts in Regina on february 3. Februrary 4 has the teams swap spots once again as the hockey edition of the U-Prairie Challenge comes to a close with the women in Saskatoon and the men in Regina. If there's a playoff series between the teams, those games are not included in the final tally for U-Prairie supremacy.

Honestly, this is the kind of thing that reinvigorates a fanbase, and both cities should see their fans, students, faculty, and alumni excited for this competition while elevating the skills and abilities of the students and coaches who call those schools home. If this attracts new fans or casual fans a little more often, that's good for both institutions, and the opportunity to bring in more sponsors and supporters grows as well.

Count me in as someone who will watch these new U-Prairie Challenge games a little closer. We already know that the University of Saskatchewan and University of Regina have a deep rivalry on the women's hockey front, but this makes the other sports that I either ignore or watch casually a little more meaningful. And that's entirely the purpose of these games - to bring in more eyeballs and butts in seats to help both universities and their athletic programs.

Well done, Sasktachewan and Regina. This is going to be even more fun this season with a U-Prairie Challenge trophy on the line!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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