Hoops for the new year

The head coach of the women’s Varsity Blues basketball team was delighted that her team made a New Year’s resolution to remain undefeated in 2009.

“That would be a beautiful gift,” laughed long-time head coach Michele Belanger. “I hope it happens, certainly at home. Our goal is to get back to [the] Nationals. How we get there, we’ll take any route we have to.”

The team has held true to their intentions. They swept the Laurentian Voyageurs and the York Lions in their weekend’s series at the Athletic Centre Sports Gym, maintaining their perfect record in 2009. With the talents and leadership of veteran guard Alaine Hutton and power forward Nicki Schultz, the Blues improved to an 8-1 home record and an 11-5 overall record to maintain the top spot in the Eastern Conference OUA standings.

Laurentian posted a 12-4 lead in the first quarter Friday night, forcing the Blues to make tough shots early on the strength of their court defence. But the Blues used their fast transition game to force the aggressive Lady Vees into committing fouls, frequently sending the Blues to the free-throw line where the team had plenty of success, sinking 83 per cent of their free-throw attempts.

“I thought Laurentian played a solid game and really tried hard to move us off the blocks and push and shove us,” acknowledged Belanger. “Laurentian was really difficult for us. They have some really nice shooters who can make the big shots when they needed to, but we got ourselves to the foul line and that’s what we needed to do.”

The Blues opened the second quarter with the lead and a 9-0 run, but the Voyageurs refused to go away, pulling within a point of the Blues. But with less than two minutes left in the game, the Voyageurs fouled Schultz who sunk both her free-throw attempts to seal the eventual 69-60 victory for the Blues. Schultz had 24 points and 14 rebounds for the double-double, while Hutton scored a game-high 28 points with a perfect 12-12 from the floor en route to being named the Blues player of the game.

Saturday saw another well-fought battle against their cross-town rival. A strong third quarter had the Blues lead by as much as 19 points, overcoming yet another slow first half for the Blues. The York Lions managed to chip away at the lead during the fourth-quarter, but fifth-year Blues Tara Kinnear stepped up and ran with the game in the final two minutes, nailing three huge buckets to help secure the 74-67 win.

“[Tara Kinnear] plays really hard,” said Belanger. “She bangs it pretty hard, and Tara got some really key baskets and really key boards.”

Schultz earned Saturday’s player of the game honours, as well as being named the OUA female player of the week after dropping a team-high 23 points and 17 rebounds for her second double-double in as many games for a total of 47 points and 31 rebounds this weekend. Hutton chipped in with 18 points on Saturday, while spearheading the Blues offensively by contributing crucial plays, including a beautiful pick-and-roll with Kinnear that spearheaded the victory.

“They played really, really well,” said Belanger on her two star players this weekend. “Nicki [Schultz] went to the floor several times and still keeps getting up and working hard at it. Both of them are vital parts in our offence. Both of them are quality players—they are all star players. They can score basically at will. And they work very hard.”

What have you done for me lately?

In 1852, Robert Sutherland became the first black man to graduate from a Canadian university. Now a group of students at Sutherland’s alma mater, Queen’s University, are attempting to rename their Policy Studies building in his honor.

Sutherland left his estate to Queen’s upon his death in 1878, rescuing it from financial crisis. Admin are hesitant to put his name on a building, though, when that honour can go to recent or future donors.

Discussions continue on how best to commemorate Sutherland, with possibilities including a statue.

Super Bowl XLIII Preview

Why the Pittsburgh Steelers Will Win

Coaching

Due to previous experience with the Pittsburgh Steelers, many would give Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt an edge in the competition. While there’s no doubt this will prepare the Cardinals for the Steelers, Pittsburgh’s boss Mike Tomlin is no slouch either.

After entering the league in 2001 at 28, Tomlin has worked under the likes of Tony Dungy, Lovie Smith, and Jon Gruden. No defence Tomlin has been a part of has ever been ranked lower than eighth overall.

Tomlin brought youthful energy to the Steelers in the 07-08 season, combined with hard work, dedication, and perhaps his greatest attribute of all: the ability to work with the talent on the field. Under Tomlin, the Steelers have won their division twice. This year, Tomlin has become the youngest head coach ever to lead a team to the Super Bowl.

Yet Tomlin and the Steelers will have their hands full on Sunday as Whisenhunt and staff have got their team rolling. Whisenhunt’s best work has erased a losing culture in the Valley of the Sun—helped by veteran leaders like quarterback Kurt Warner, safety Adrian Wilson, and running back Edgerrin James. Whisenhunt’s game planning, particularly on offense, is strong, and, like Tomlin, he delegates well. This game will play like a chess match on the field, with one wrong move costing the game.

Offence

Arizona will have to contain Pittsburgh running back Willie Parker as the Steelers establish the running game by pounding the ball. But unlike the run-it-down-your-throat Steelers in the 1970’s, this team is more versatile, especially with the development of signal caller Ben Roethlisburger. In this year’s AFC championship game, when Parker couldn’t find much room against Baltimore, the 6’5, 241 lb “Big Ben” took control. If Big Ben can buy enough time to air the ball out, the Steelers’ receiving corp will have fire power. The Cardinals must watch out for playmaker Santonio Holmes whose 65-yard catch and run TD was the major offensive play in the AFC title game. Holmes’ contributions will be even more vital with fellow wide-out and ’06 Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward limited by a knee injury.

Steelers tight end Heath Miller has been a clutch performer. Look for him to be the go-to guy should Roethlisberger start to scramble.

Defence

Although the Cardinals’ running game has been revived by Edgerrin James and rookie Tim Hightower, if Kurt Warner does not have time in the pocket, they are done. The number one ranked Steelers’ defence, lead by defensive player of the year James Woodson, will give Arizona a run for their money.

Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who has already set a single post-season record with 419 receiving yards, looks uncoverable. Receivers Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston who both had a 1000+ yard season, could also be lethal. Therefore, cornerbacks Ike Taylor and Deshea Townsend will need plenty of support from hard hitting Ryan Clark and All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu.

Special Teams

Pittsburgh always gets a huge play from Santonio Holmes, whose punt return for a score got the Steelers back into their divisional round win over San Diego. However, Holmes can be hit or miss, as he is prone to bad decisions.

Cardinals’ kicker Neil Rackers has provided a solid kicking game, hitting 25 of 28 field goals. But Steelers’ Jeff Reed is the superior place-kicker and one of the best clutch kickers in the game.

FINAL THOUGHT

The Cardinals have been the lovable underdogs throughout the post-season, but their fairytale won’t have a happy ending. The Steelers will establish a solid running game early on, and the Cardinals will have a tough time cracking the Steel Curtain. Coach Tomlin will become the youngest coach ever to hoist the Holy Grail, and Pittsburgh will bring home a record sixth title back to the Steel City.

—GEORGE LIANG

WHY THE ARIZONA CARDINALS WILL WIN

Coaching

Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt was part of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ coaching staff from 2001 to 2006, first as the coach for the tight ends and then as the offensive coordinator. Whisenhunt’s in-depth knowledge of Pittsburgh’s players’ individual skill sets will help the Cardinals defence. For instance, there isn’t much Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisburger is going to do that Whisenhunt hasn’t seen before. Arizona’s defence has played well in the post-season, so it would seem that defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and staff have cured whatever ailed their defenders at the end of the regular season.

Offence

It’s no secret that the Arizona Cardinals’ offence is the reason they win games. With veteran QB Kurt Warner at the helm, and superstar wide-outs Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin on the field, they’re almost a reincarnation of the Greatest Show on Turf. Whether he’s wide open or in triple coverage, Fitzgerald is able to catch the ball no matter where Warner puts it. Getting the passing game going is vital for Arizona. Not only has it been the key to their playoff victories, it will open up the running game, which they’ve had a lot of success with in the post-season.

During the NFC championship game, the Cardinals went three-and-out whenever the Philadelphia Eagles successfully pressured Warner. Unfortunately for Arizona, the Steelers’ defence also loves to bring the blitz and put non-stop pressure on the quarterback. But their strategy isn’t impenetrable. During the AFC championship game, the Baltimore Ravens took advantage of some downfield plays when QB Joe Flacco received protection. Though Baltimore’s run of the mill passing offence missed out on several opportunities to get the ball downfield, Arizona won’t make the same mistake. Warner was able to beat most of the Eagles’ blitzes with quick passes. His plethora of NFL experience enables him to make quick passes, good decisions, and big plays, even when he’s under pressure. Between Fitzgerald, Boldin, Steve Breaston, and Stephen Spach, Warner always has an open receiver. Pittsburgh doesn’t have enough players to blitz while simultaneously covering every wide-out on the field.

The Cardinals have one of the most proficient passing offences in the league. If the offensive line can maintain the pocket like they did in their last three games, the Cardinals will take advantage of any opening the Steelers afford them.

Defence

Pittsburgh is a run-first team, and lately Arizona’s defence has done a great job stopping the run. By getting upfield quickly, they can force the running back to the outside, surround him, and make a gang tackle. If they can continue that, they’ll have success against the Steelers.

The Arizona defence will need to pressure Big Ben and make him run outside the pocket. They’ll also need to force Pittsburgh into a passing situation by getting the score up early, making the Steelers’ offense one-dimensional. Roethlisburger likes to hold onto the ball in an attempt to keep the play alive. Against most defences, this tactic usually works, as the Steelers’ receivers are good at making plays downfield. However, there isn’t a Pittsburgh offensive player that’s faster than the defensive backs on Arizona. When the Steelers are up against that kind of defence, Big Ben throws interceptions, gets sacked, and makes mistakes, and Arizona’s defence—specifically CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie—are able to capitalize on poor throws under pressure. Just ask Jake Delhomme.

Special Teams

Arizona’s been reliable on kick return by not turning it over and consistently setting up the offense with fairly good field position. Steelers WR Santonio Holmes excels on the return game, so the Cardinals will have to be extra aware on kick off and punt coverage. Arizona can’t afford to have K Neil Rackers kick the ball out of bounds, like he did against Philadelphia. And he’ll have to make every field goal, because in this game they’re really going to count. Against a good defence, field goals win games.

Final Thought

Arizona will be victorious against Pittsburgh because the Cardinals have played the best football of any team in this year’s playoffs. The lethal combination of Warner, Fitzgerald, and Boldin will run the score up early, leaving the Steelers scrambling to catch up. The Cardinals have beaten the odds all season. On Sunday they’ll do it again.

—ANDREA YEOMANS

A raw deal for York students

As a cash-strapped undergraduate plugging through the last semester of my degree, I feel for the students of York University. Not only did they get cheated out of the education they paid for this year, but it looks as though they’ll have to forfeit the right to secure summer employment and internships in order to compensate for their stolen semester. Students can expect their spring graduation plans to be put on hold.

The CUPE 3903 strike is entering its 12th week. While there have been talks about legislating an end to this ongoing saga within the coming week, the damage—to student psyches, to York’s public image, and to the union’s credibility—has already been done.

At this point, we’ve mostly forgotten the union’s reasons for striking, which amount to higher wages for TAs and longer contracts for sessional professors. Improving working conditions are reasonable grounds for action, but enough is enough, and even these reasonable factors don’t seem relevant anymore. What began as a strike to improve labour conditions has devolved into a war of attrition, an endless conflict sustained by pride. At the end of the day—or months, more like—the undergraduates are the ones who suffer, abandoned by the teachers and administrators who were trusted with their educational advancement.

I don’t mean to dismiss CUPE’s cause. Being a graduate student is undeniably a highly demanding full-time job, especially with the addition of teaching responsibilities. Yes, many graduate students also have families to support, and, yes, it would be ideal for universities to provide their graduate teaching staffs with, at the very least, a living wage. It’s also true that year-long contracts for lecturers are doubly disadvantageous, both in terms of practicality and diminished job security. But surely there must be a way to work this out without having to burden 50,000 students in the process.

Who will emerge the winner in this situation? Not York University, whose enrollment has dropped considerably. It won’t be CUPE 3903, either: though they will likely receive marginal upgrades through some process of forced arbitration, fewer students mean fewer teaching positions. And it will most definitely not be York’s undergraduates, although it appears they were never really considered in the first place.

At the very least, the end is near. On Tuesday, Premier Dalton McGuinty announced that he intends to resume legislation to end the union’s strike, marking the first government-mandated strike cessation in the history of Canada’s university sector. A beacon of hope for beleaguered students, perhaps, but the return to class will probably not restore faith in the integrity of York University’s administration, or the union’s professed commitment to the provision of higher education.

Backwards budget benefits few

Tuesday’s budget was surprising enough to make a Torontonian trip over an uprooted TTC floor tile.

What Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty proposed is backwards on so many levels. It was counter-intuitive to Conservatives, to designating funds, and to our future. We are lucky that Ignatieff has recognized this backwardness and has called Canada to work together.

The first degree of reversal is in Conservative policy. Luckily for Canada, Harper has released his most Liberal-style budget. Although he insists he still values conservative financial policies such as small government, lower taxes and less intervention, he has pushed these aside in proposing bailouts, larger legislation, and interventionist policies.

Prior to the budget, mayors from across Canada urged Flaherty for more funding to look after their pre-planned, pre-budgeted, shovel-ready infrastructure projects. Instead, the budget proposes funding that must be designated along administrative lines set by the federal government.

Plans must be re-made and cities must designate certain percentages of their allotted sums to projects in order to receive funding. The potential delays could very well mean that these projects will never see the light of day.

Some of these shovel-ready projects include improvements to crumbling TTC stations (think uprooted floor tiles) and money for new transit options.

But what’s most surprising to the average Torontonian is that Harper is investing in cities—yes, the despised, non-oil producing, left-leaning metropolises. This is obviously an effort to break new ground in the next election, and yet these measures seem in opposition to Harper’s policies.

There are plenty of decent proposals in this budget if you live in the ever-growing suburbs, including funding for extracurricular activities. Although there are no childcare improvements, a $2,000 per-child tax credit, extending RRSPs, and allowing more money for RESPs have been proposed. In addition, $2 billion has been budgeted for repair and maintenance projects at post-secondary institutions, 70 per cent of which is for universities.

But not much is left for those outside infrastructure-boosted cities and suburban zones. Those who live in poverty, in addition to those who have been recently laid-off, have very little to gain from this budget.

Another backwards move by the Conservatives is proposing specific objectives to a malleable economy. Flaherty seems to predict some sort of magical boost to the Canadian economy next year, and an end to the recession in Canada within five years. Because of this arbitrary prediction, our budget is not suited to withstand the possibility of a deeper recession.

Another concern is the environment. Although one billion dollars are to be slated for environmental development programs, this is merely a fraction of the potentially hundreds of thousands of green jobs resource-rich Canada could be developing.

These concerns for the future have called Canada’s role in the world into question. Where will we be as a nation in five years? A decade? Twenty years? The changing economy, forthcoming Olympics and new presidential dynasty are all setting the stage for a new Canada. Harper should have seized this opportunity to define which direction Canada should head in.

Ignatieff came forward yesterday with an amendment to the budget that will benefit Canadians. He wants quarterly updates on the cost and results programs proposed by parliament. Each of these would be proposed as confidence motions, meaning change that does not satisfy Canadians may result in an election. This will help ensure that propositions, especially infrastructure projects, see results. It will also certainly put the Conservatives in their place and allow time for the Liberals to reorganize.

Ignatieff seems to be the voice of reason. The Conservatives have broken ground with a revolutionary budget, and the Liberals want to see the results while taking them to task. Although he wasn’t keen on last year’s coalition proposal, Ignatieff said yesterday that it “has shown that we can work together. Canadians need to get used to the idea that we can work together.”

Amen.

Pro-choice camp overwhelms anti-abortion protest

The pro-lifers were outnumbered and backed into a corner at this year’s annual face off between pro- and anti-abortion protestors at Harbord and St. George. A group of 25 from the Centre for Women and Trans People drowned out the five from U of T students for Life, as both sides chanted and waved posters.

Clad in pink shirts and raising placards that read “Women have the right to choose!” and “Choice matters,” protestors braved the heavy snow and passed out flyers and pins to students passing one of the highest traffic areas on campus.

The campaign by U of T Students for Life was not publicized, but pro-choicers say they found out about it early enough to prepare a counter-protest. The lifers, who held the event to protest the 20th anniversary of the Morgentaler Decision that legalized abortion, held posters reading “Abortion kills children” and chanted, “Women united will never be defeated.”

The pro-choice protestors said abortion is not the murder of a person, as defined by Canadian courts, a fetus is not legally considered a person. On moral grounds, they added, forcing a woman to have a child against her will is against Canadian values.

Students for Life also holds a yearly protest late in the winter semester called the Genocide Awareness Project, where they compare abortion to genocide. GAP has seen admin objections on campuses due to graphic images. At U of T, the annual protest traditionally takes place at St. George and Harbord.

Bell curve this

If there is a hell, entrance will certainly be bell-curved, and University of Toronto students will be particularly well prepared. U of T’s great leaders are altering students’ grades with little regard for the ethical status of this practice, or what questions it might raise about the university itself.

As a student assistant in a college registrar’s office, I’ve dealt with the issue of grade adjustment more than once. Without fail, the affected student wants to know what he or she can do about it. The answer I have to give is squat. The system is stacked firmly against students, as it so often is at U of T. Bureaucrats and bureaucratically-minded professors make the rules—all we can do is follow them.

The Faculty of Arts and Science Calendar outlines the procedure for adjusting grades. It states explicitly that “the departmental review committee, through the Chair, and the Faculty review committee, through the Dean, have the right…to adjust marks where there is an obvious and unexplained discrepancy between the marks submitted and the perceived standards of the Faculty.” Students take note: administrators have the right to change the grade you earned if they don’t like it. And there is nothing you can do about it.

Several important issues are raised here, including the autonomy of our instructors. As U of T students, we’ve all heard the adage that at Harvard, if a professor gives out too many C’s, she has to go before a committee to defend her grading policy. At U of T, the inverse holds true: if a professor gives out too many A’s, she has to go before a committee to defend her methods. This could cue a discussion about our inferiority complex, but more importantly, it demonstrates that professors are not truly in control of the grades they hand out. Concerns about “Faculty standards” outweigh worries about an instructor’s professional judgment, eroding the fundamental relationship between teacher and student on which a university is built.

The premise that the grade you earn should be the grade you get is perfectly fair. Alterations to earned grades, whether they are inflated or deflated, are faulted in both the simplest sense—students do not receive what they have earned—and in the sense of the long-term value of a university education. If marks are no longer based solely on a student’s performance as evaluated by a professor, it breaks down that fundamental relationship.

For anyone who cares deeply about the future of higher education and about the University of Toronto specifically, grade alteration ought to provoke outrage. A university of this size invariably has a small army of administrative personnel, including many professors who have become administrators in one capacity or another. However, the threat that this army poses to the relationship between students and professors cannot be ignored. If the university has any hope of remaining relevant—and I’m sure that it does—we have to protect the autonomy of instructors and the rights of students. Among these rights ought to be the right to receive a fair, unadjusted grade reflecting your performance, not the perceived standards of the Faculty of Arts and Science.

Province orders York union back to work

Things are looking up for students at York, who may be back to school on Monday.

Last night at 10 p.m., the TA’s union announced it was dropping its lawsuit against the Ontario government for creating back-to-work legislation.

“We have done everything in our power to stand up for the quality and accessibility of education at York in this round of negotiations but, for now, it’s time to get our students back to class,” said CUPE 3903 spokesperson Tyler Shipley.

Bill 145, “York University Labour Disputes Resolution Act,” will have its third reading today at 10:30 a.m. The soon-to-be-defeated union is holding a rally at the same time to “celebrate and honour all that we have done and achieved over 85 days of strike,” according to its website.

On Sunday, Queen’s Park held a special sitting to propose the bill. After the NDP blocked the first reading, the bill needed a second and third reading. Had it passed at the first reading, students would have already returned to class.

Once approved, the bill will need royal assent by the Lieutenant Governor, followed by a 24-hour period before students can return to class.

York’s last strike record was some 76 days, which took place in 2000-2001.

The union, which represents 3,300 striking employees, warned it would continue pursuing negotiations in the future.

“York has never been committed to the process,” Shipley told The Varsity. “There was no deadlock here. There was simply one side that refused to bargain.”

York’s struggle is seen as a prelude to a possible province-wide university strike in 2010 that would affect 330,000 students.

CUPE has worked to synchronize most of its Ontario university contracts to expire next year. This raises the possibility that multiple university unions will unite in labour negotiations and collaborate on a strike if dissatisfied.

Although some CUPE unions only represent secondary staff, such as food and custodial workers, others, including U of T and Ryerson, represent teaching assistants and contract faculty.

The York Federation of Students has faced criticism for siding with CUPE. YFS recently offered all 50,000 undergrads $100 each as part of a relief fund and is petitioning university officials to refund students for lost tuition.

The union also launched the “Don’t Pay a Cent” campaign, urging students not to pay any fees, although the university had already postponed payment deadlines until classes resume. Their constituents are way ahead of them. “I do not feel represented by Osman and Co. so will I get my membership fee back?” wrote Amrisha Sharma in the York Strike Info Facebook group.

A class-action lawsuit was announced Sunday against York University, on the basis of violating the Consumer Protection Act.

The strike, which started Nov. 6, has been a source of much media attention, generating over 50 Facebook groups. Endless demonstrations have taken place, including a Tuesday march from the Ministry of Labour to Queen’s Park where four people were charged for assaulting and obstructing police.

Shipley said the arrested “were victims of police incitement” who have since been released.

With files from Saron Ghebressellassie