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The Last End: The history of playing time

The rules regarding playing time have changed many times throughout curling’s history.

Records show that at the first Olympic Winter Games in 1924 in Chamonix, France — when curling was a demonstration sport — all games were 18 ends long. And at the 1932 Games in Lake Placid, New York, matches were 16 ends.

In Canada, the oldest curling event is the Brier, where until 1977 all games were 12 ends. It’s interesting to note that two morning-draw games at the 1976 Brier in Regina went to extra ends, in both cases pushing the playing time beyond five hours. In one case, the afternoon draw had to be delayed by 30 minutes to allow the earlier game to be completed.

This forced the Canadian Curling Association to take a serious look at the situation and, beginning in 1977, reduced Brier games to 10 ends. That decreased the amount of time necessary to complete a game, but didn’t solve the problem.

A new era began for the Brier in 1980, when the Labatt Brewing Company became the title sponsor. The event became bigger and better, with more spectators, more media coverage and more televising of games. And while CBC had been broadcasting the Brier finals for many years, the sport entered a new phase in 1985, when TSN arrived on the scene.

The new network quickly gravitated to curling and events such as the Brier started to enjoy daily coverage. This created a new problem for the sport — curlers could no longer play at their own pace. To broadcast a 10-end game with 12 minutes an hour of commercials was taking an arduous three-and-a-half to four hours to complete.

And so the time clock was implemented for the first time at the 1986 TSN Skins Game, eventually making its way to world play in 1989 at the first-ever combined world men’s and women’s championships in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

After a four-year study, it was determined that for one team to complete 10 ends of play comfortably required about 75 minutes. At that time, television networks were inserting eight to 10 minutes of commercials an hour. Thus, a total of 150 minutes of game time, plus about 30 minutes of commercial time, meant that a 10-end game could be completed in about three hours.

But coaches were becoming a more integral part of curling teams and it became necessary to allow time for coaching consultation. Each team was allotted 73 minutes of playing time and two separate one-minute time outs. But then it was decided that travel time had to be allowed for each team’s coach to arrive at ice level before the one-minute time out began.

The issue became even more complicated when the maximum amount of commercial airtime allowed by the CRTC was expanded to 12 minutes an hour. (It has, in recent years, been increased further but curling has stayed at 12 minutes.) This meant that by allowing the 75 minutes of game time, plus coaching consultations per team, plus 36 minutes of commercials and at least four minutes of travel time per team, 10-end games were taking almost three-and-a-half hours.

Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert at the Olympics in Vancouver. (Photo: CCA/Michael Burns Photography)

Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert at the Olympics in Vancouver. (Photo: CCA/Michael Burns Photography)

Pressure from television, fans and media over a number of years moved the CCA and WCF to decide, following the 2010 Olympics, that something had to change in order to get a 10-end game into a tighter window. Some felt that moving to an eight-end game was the answer. But there was concern that eight-end games could easily be over, for all intents and purposes, by the fourth end and would short-change television and the all-important spectators in the building, who still are the prime ingredient for the success of a major curling competition.

After considerable deliberation, the governing bodies decided to reduce coaching time outs. In 2011, a new approach was introduced that provided each team with 73 minutes of playing time and while additional time-out minutes were not included, each team was allowed to call two one-minute coaching consultations within the limit of playing time. Which is to say, the clock wasn’t stopped for time outs and allowed a 10-end game to be played in 182 minutes, thus solving the three-hour time-maximum concern.

The adjustment solved the time problem but coaches and teams weren’t happy with the change. Last spring, with these concerns in mind, the CCA went back to the drawing board to try to find a solution.

At the CCA’s Annual General Meeting in June, a new format was presented and accepted that made the following adjustment: The game’s playing time will be reduced from 73 minutes to 71 minutes. During the course of a 10-end game, each team will have two 90-second time outs — including travel time for a coach to get to the ice surface — during which the clocks will be stopped.

It remains to be seen if this will satisfy teams and coaches. The verdict will be in at the end of this curling season, when it will be assessed again.