Canadian Football League: Better Than the NFL?

Jim FlanneryAnalyst IAugust 21, 2012

Canadian Football League: Better Than the NFL?

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    Which league is better, the CFL or the NFL?

    This is a question that has perplexed football fans north of the 49th Parallel since the dawn of time, or so it seems.

    With the Canadian Football League season approaching the mid-way point and the National Football League season about to begin, now seems like a good time to tackle this age-old debate.

    I have long maintained that the CFL is a superior sport played with inferior players. The smaller market and pay cheques have always kept top level talent away from the CFL and this means that the best of the best rarely put in time north of the border.

    There have been a few notables who have spent time in the CFL and then made a successful jump to the NFL, however—Joe Theismann, Warren Moon, "Rocket" Ismael, Doug Flutie, and Jeff Garcia all established themselves as quality players in the CFL before moving south for the big bucks.

    Now I know that plenty of people will disagree with my point of view, some vehemently. That's fine and I welcome your thoughts. But here are some of the elements of the CFL game that, in my humble opinion, make it better than NFL football.

     

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Three Downs

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    The biggest single difference between CFL ball and NFL ball is three downs versus four. 

    With fewer downs to make your 10 yards, more offensive aggression is necessary, which usually means more passing and a lot less settling for plays that might only get you a couple yards.

    Plays running out of the shotgun are far more common as a result, pass patterns full of eligible receivers are encouraged, and when you run the ball, you need to have a play set up that is designed to get you half the distance to the first down marker.

    Going for it on third and short is also far more common. Going two and out is no way to win, so you need to take a shot at it if the odds work. CFL rules require the defense to set up a yard off the line of scrimmage—that extra yard of space between the offensive and defensive lines also means that there's really no excuse for not getting your first down on a QB keeper, so teams tend to go for it.

No Fair Catches

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    The most utterly boring play in the NFL is a punt followed by a fair catch.

    With a situation that lame, where no play is actually made by the receiving team, wouldn't it be easier for them to just request a ball placement 40 yards from the line of scrimmage and be done with it?

    There's none of this sissy stuff in the CFL.

    When a punt is made, the receiving team is obliged to make a play. The kicking team must give the kick returner five yards or suffer a "no yards" penalty, but once the ball hits the receiver's hands, all bets are off, so he better be ready to start running.

    More return attempts equals more opportunities for big plays equals more excitement.

    Not boring.

Bigger Field, More Players

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    The CFL's playing field is 110 yards long, 65 yards wide and the 20-yard deep end zones are cavernous.

    With more room to operate, offenses have the ability to run more stunt plays, kick returners can sometimes get around defensive coverages by reversing direction and backing up, and being at or near the goal line doesn't automatically limit your play selections due to lack of playing surface to work with.

    The extra real estate also means teams get to have another player on the field. An extra player in the pattern means more options for the quarterback to look at and one more guy for the defensive coverage to track. 

    As with the other differences in the two games, more room allows for more creativity on both sides of the ball, which can't help but be a good thing when it comes to entertainment value.

    One added wrinkle to the wider field: it also means the hash marks are further separated. This most particularly affects the kicking game, as kickers aren't always starting within the arms of the uprights. This can make even close-in field goal attempts challenging, since you might have to chip in from a funky angle.

    An attempt from ten yards out is therefore not a sure thing. 

Backfield in Motion

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    One of the big differences between the NFL game and the CFL game is that Canadian football allows every player behind the line of scrimmage to start moving before the snap. As a result, a six-man pass pattern with every receiver in full sprint at the snap is a common occurrence and gives the offense all kinds of different options to exploit defensive holes.

    This rule alone opens up the offense in ways the NFL simply can't. It encourages more creativity on both sides of the ball. Offensively, it creates more and better passing options and puts pressure on the defense to handle challenging pass patterns.

    Defensively, this also opens the opportunity for more blitzes, since there isn't always an end or running back around to help protect the passer.

    The net result is more action, more movement, more scoring and more entertainment for the fans.

The Grey Cup

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    Yes, the Super Bowl is pretty impressive and has a long and storied history over the last 47 years.

    But the 100th Grey Cup is being held this year.

    That's a lot more history and makes it one of the oldest championship trophies in North America. 

    In fact, did you know that Canadians invented football and it wasn't until 13 years later that the University of McGill and Harvard played the game that would eventually evolve into both the Canadian and American sports we now know? Yes, that's right, we made this game and that's yet one more reason why our version of the game is better than the American adaptation.