Going the Distance is in the Best Interest
Championship curling has developed slowly over the past 50 years which has resulted in a good deal of excess baggage trailing behind that is hardly appropriate to top-level play in any sport. A number of large event, including the Tim Hortons Brier and Scotties Tournament of Hearts, have become national spectacles over the last decade despite, in many cases, the existence of numerous non-professional attitudes. I’m referring to items such as non-matching uniforms, lack of identifying name crests on the backs, non-compliance with the rules, the use of old brooms and shoes, and so forth. But none are more puzzling to me than the custom of conceding a game before its full complement of ends has been completed. Don’t get me wrong, I think this helps to move things along in club play and smaller bonspiels but, even in bonspiel play at the upper level, it should be forbidden. I remember well, back in my era as a player, the days when we had to complete 12 full ends at each and every level of playdowns leading to the Brier, even at the local zone. No one complained and it was an accepted part of the game. But, with the exit of Macdonald Tobacco as a title sponsor in 1980, the idea that it was no longer a requirement to complete10 ends, never mind 12, came into play. I suppose the reaction of most curlers will be “what’s the big deal?” If you are six down after six or seven ends you haven’t got a chance of winning the game so why not get off the ice and avoid further humiliation, right? That doesn’t fly at a major event, not in my mind, not where fans have paid a big buck to watch and national coverage on television has been booked for three hours. When is the last time you saw a hockey team in the NHL fail to appear for the third period because it was down six goals? Similarly, have you ever seen a football team head for the showers with five minutes remaining because the score differential is 20 or more points? Okay, these are professional sports in which there is an image involved, not to mention fans and television. But has curling not arrived at this point, with the desire to even become bigger and better? If so, then why all the concern and whining about playing the full 10 ends no matter what the score? When you get down to the final rounds of the Tim Hortons Brier, Scotties Tournament of Hearts, Ford Worlds and so on, there is a lot on the line that should demand and require the full complement of ends to be completed. First and foremost, fans are sitting in the stands, having paid as much as $40-to-$50 for a ticket. That ticket was for the right to watch a game 10 ends in length. If one side concedes early, does the fan not have the right to ask for a refund? Then there is television. The game has been sold to sponsors as a 10-end game. In addition, 12 minutes of advertising has been sold for every hour of telecasting. Cut a couple of ends short and the telecast is abridged by possibly 30 minutes, hence bout six minutes of commercials have been cut short and will, in some way, shape or form, have to be made up to those advertisers. There is the aspect, too, of the television network. If a three-hour time frame has been booked for a curling game, where does the network go if, all of a sudden, that game is cut short by 30 minutes? While this can be simply adjusted at times there are other circumstances that render it very difficult. Something else that raises its head in a round robin or any competition in which teams go straight from one draw to the next. Let’s say two teams are playing at 9 a.m. against different opponents but will face each other in the next game at 1:30 p.m. One team gets the jump on another and, as a result, that game is finished in seven ends. The other game goes to the 10th end plus an extra and, as a result, lasts for one more hour than the other game. So, at 1:30, the survivors meet. One has played a tough 11-end game going in while the other has played only seven ends, enjoyed a nice lunch and a rest. It’s true, you can’t predict how a game is going to play out, but one competitor should have to be on the playing field as long as the other in any case. A minor concern, you say? Well, if top-level curling really wants to arrive and receive the same distinction in the marketplace as other sports in North America, there is a need for a 10-end game to become just that, a 10-end game.