The idea behind creating the Maritime Women’s Basketball Association came along innocently enough.
During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, a long-time Basketball New Brunswick coach was busy using technology to keep the basketball world together.
Saint John’s Paul Hickey created a popular Zoom video conference call featuring a number of guest coaches and speakers from across the basketball world.
One of his guests with Canada Basketball’s national women’s team head coach Lisa Thomaidis, who also guides perennial U SPORTS powerhouse University of Saskatchewan Huskies. During her guest appearance, Thomaidis was asked about Canada’s challenges of staying near the top of the basketball rankings.
She said Canada is supplying more and more top-level talent, but our country is the only high-end FIBA entrant that does not have a professional women’s basketball league.
On the call that day was former BNB president Brad Janes, who reached out to Thomaidis following the call to discuss the possibility of creating a pro league in Canada. Janes also talked with Mike MacKay, the performance manager of Canada Basketball’s women’s high performance program and reached out to Canadian Elite Basketball League commissioner Mike Morreale to discuss the challenges of creating a professional league in Canada.
Those conversations extended to a number of other university coaches across the country, but it also meant the idea of a professional league would be a costly endeavour out of the gate.
‘My first thought was always to create a league in the Maritimes off the hop due to easier travel and geographical rivalries,’ said Janes, who lives in Fredericton. ‘Some back of a the envelope math showed it would be a costly endeavour if we weren’t sure how the reaction would be. More conversations with more coaches and potential interest groups indicated maybe we look at developing a competitive amateur league with present day university players, maybe some pros home for the summer and former players in our own regions. That idea seemed to strike a chord and eventually, the snowball started to roll.’
Phone calls, emails, texts and messages were bandied about in mid-spring and suddenly, the interest started to spread.
‘We’re incredibly lucky to have such a close-knit basketball community in the Maritimes and it’s really a seven degrees of Kevin Bacon scenario where someone knows another person, who knows that person and you’re off to the races,’ said Janes. ‘Travel was critical in the initial stages so the league was designed to keep things in a pretty tight regional scenario to start when you consider expenses such as hotels, gas and meals. We believe we have the makings of some good rivalries.’
There are three interested teams in Nova Scotia and three in New Brunswick following an early January conference call. That doesn’t mean more won’t enter the fray, but the building blocks are in place.
Two teams in Halifax including the Sirens and Thunder and geographical neighbour Windsor Edge will create easy rivalries. Fredericton Freeze, Port City Fog and 506 Elite of Moncton would create natural provincial rivalries.
Games will be played primarily on Saturday night or early Sunday afternoons. There will be mid-week games for teams in close proximity.
The MWBA will also sort out roster eligibility to create competitive balance. That may mean each team can only use a certain number of present day U SPORTS or Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association players, but have as many pros or former players as necessary.
‘The league is not designed to be an off-season home for already stocked university programs,’ said Janes. ‘The eventual league executive will have to play a key role in roster construction. There will be a team that finishes first and one that will finish last, but we want all of the entrants to have a fighting chance.’
The MWBA will also conduct itself in a professional manner.
All of the franchise owners understand that.
‘The MWBA will not condone teams showing up with short rosters and mismatched uniforms, that is something all of those involved agree on,’ said Janes. ‘We want a professional game presentation and the league’s code of conduct will back that up. Commitment of the players is the number one challenge. Once that falls into place and players realize just how competitive and well-run the MWBA will be, it will be a natural place to play.’
So why begin a league?
‘We want present day players to continue playing and improving and we want former players to stay involved in the game as opposed to maybe playing co-ed pickup or the odd weekend tournament here and there,’ said Janes. ‘This is about promoting female basketball players, female coaches, officials, minor officials and team executives and marketing. From playing now to long term athletic development on and off the court. This has a chance to turn into something very strong and forward-thinking. It is incredible the amount of qualified people are on the MWBA board and there is a real strength within the franchise commitments.’
Janes also wanted to thank Thomaidis, MacKay and Morreale along with the many coaches and administrators he spoke with.
‘I can’t say enough about Lisa, Mike and Mike and so many others who accepted out-of-the-blue cold calls or emails and just ran with advice and suggestions,’ he said. ‘So much information was invaluable to how the league could and should look. Something borrowed and something new, but we hope the MWBA takes off.’
You can contact the MWBA through this website for any questions you may have.