Much like I probably will never understand the system by which Americans choose their presidents, what with primaries and the electoral college and all, I likely will never understand how Americans decide the best college football team.
I have gleaned this much: there is no such thing as an official national college football championship and that something called “selectors” pick the best teams.
If I understand Wikipedia correctly, the University of Alabama Crimson Tide won the “championship” last year, as it did three of the past four years.
From what I read, UA is being dubbed a dynasty, and again this year they are on top with an 11-0 record going into this Thanksgiving weekend.
Up north, we have what might easily be described as a football powerhouse to equal The Tide; in fact you might call it the red and gold tide. This would be the Laval University Rouge et Or team.
On Saturday, Laval captured its eighth Vanier Cup national university football championship. The team did it at home in front of a monster crowd, by Canada college ball standards, of 18,500 tailgate-fueled fans.
The win was the team’s third in four consecutive Cup appearances. The only time it lost a championship game, in 2011, it was in double overtime.
The success of the Rouge et Or football program is the envy of the 27-team Canadian Interuniversity Sports league. Critics, though, say Laval, the oldest school of higher education in Canada, has stacked the deck with an exceptionally well-funded program financed by corporate sponsors.
While the best of facilities, coaches and other support are certainly the infrastructure of a successful sports program, the key to Laval’s winning ways lies in an observation made about 20 years ago by a local physical-education instructor.
Mike Labadie, who teaches at the only English-language pre-university college in Quebec City, populated mostly by French speakers, noted that francophones playing football in Quebec at the high-school level had nowhere to go to advance their game except the English universities in the province or elsewhere in the country.
Labadie convinced local business types that a winning program could be built on a vast pool of francophone talent in Quebec.
The formula worked. Laval won its first Vanier Cup in 1999, after only four years of full league play. Naturally, success breeds success, and Laval has been able to attract top talent from the province and from elsewhere, often some unlikely places.
Star kicker Boris Bede, for example, is from France but moved with his soccer-playing father to the United States, where he adopted the oval ball and played for two years at Tiffin University in Ohio before being recruited by Laval.
Eighteen other players from France have suited up over the years for the Rouge et Or.
Seeing the formula work so well at Laval, the two other large French-language universities in Quebec decided to hop on board. The Université de Montréal Carabins (2002) and the Université de Sherbrooke (2003) joined the league and have had respectable records since; Montreal even captured a Quebec league championship in 2004 (but lost to Laval in the subsequent playoffs).
Laval’s dominance in the Quebec league of 11 straight championships has sparked discussion of whether the Rouge et Or should look south for stronger competition. It would not be the first Canadian university football team to leap to the NCAA. Simon Fraser University in Vancouver has been in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Division II since 2010.
Alternately, there has been some discussion of adopting NCAA ways in creating different strength divisions for football programs. That could be problematic with less than 30 universities in Canada fielding teams.
It’s not that everything is perfect with the Rouge et Or — at least not off the field. This week — one business day after the Vanier Cup victory — the media learned that the Laval starting quarterback and two teammates have been charged with assault as the result of a fight in a bar parking lot back in June. One of the alleged victims was an off-duty police officer.
Still, the Rouge et Or tide rolls on.
Peter Black is a radio broadcaster and writer based in Quebec City. He has worked on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, in Montreal as a newspaper reporter and editor, and as a translator and freelance writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.