Over the summer a friend called me asking if I wanted to attend a baseball game with him. I responded that I could not go because I was watching Rona Kickoff weekend...Canadian Football.
To say he was surprised by my answer would be an understatement.
Why would someone in the United States watch Canadian Football he asked me. Then I got him to watch a game and he was hooked. He asked why the summer league had not expanded south of the border to take advantage of the football-crazy citizens in the U.S.
This led to the story of the CFL's worst idea ever...or was it?
The thing that most amazed me while studying the CFL of the 1990s was the decisions the league made when it expanded to the U.S. The league demonstrated little caution when awarding franchises in the States, and the CFL found itself compromising fundamentals to make the South Division work.
Meanwhile, the cash-strapped league had to deal with a myriad of problems with its Canadian teams. Most noteworthy was the situation in Ottawa where the league was forced to take over football operations. Even as its teams struggled in the United States and were forced to relocate, the CFL continued to expand into new markets.
Before it was all over the Canadian game had been compromised and the experiment was deemed a failure. But was the idea a failure or just its execution?
Rivalries are a huge part of what makes sports great, and this is one thing the CFL lacked in the United States. With the bulk of the U.S. teams located in the the Deep South, no natural rivalries developed between these franchises and their Canadian counterparts. People in Texas can only dislike Edmonton so much.
Another problem with the Canadian Football League's southern experiment: dreaming too big too soon.
Initially, the league wanted to have 20 teams in the CFL: 10 teams in the United States and eventually 10 teams in Canada. In the end, the league could only get five teams south of the border and ended up having to prop up one of their Canadian franchises.
So how could the CFL expand south and see success?
Start with the North
Expanding first in the northern sections of the United States will help foster regional rivalries that the expansion of the '90s failed to build. This will also lower travel costs for the new franchises and help establish clubs north of the border. It will also allow the Canadian style of play to be slowly introduced to people who are more familiar with it and Canada, in general.
This expansions could be accomplished in Iowa, the Dakotas, Idaho, Minnesota, Oregon, Ohio and Nebraska. By moving into medium markets, the CFL can take advantage of NFL voids in the Northwest and Midwest.
Don't try to use expansion as a way to double the size of your league.
Four teams south of the border would be plenty to reintroduce the Canadian game to U.S. citizens. This would be one way to increase the size of the league responsibly and help spread the influence of the league in the States.
Do Not Compromise
During the original expansion south, the league found itself losing it's identity.
The Memphis franchise played on a field that was too small and had end zones that were only 12 yards deep. The teams were often coached by those with little knowledge and sometimes little respect for the Canadian style of play.
This cannot happen the second time around. Proven coaches in stable markets is the key to any future expansion south.
Will the Canadian Football League look to expand to the United States anytime soon? Not likely, but not out of the question. In the past few years, expansion talk has been metered and only focused on reviving the Ottawa market.
With the speculation of Jacksonville possibly becoming the L.A. Jaguars, expanding into such a football-saturated area is not a good idea.
So until the CFL decides to try to move to the States again, fans south of the border will have to enjoy the league from a distance and hope one day the dream will live again.
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