10 Reasons You Should Be Watching the CFL
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who know about the hard-hitting, faced-paced game of the Canadian Football League and those who don’t. The CFL is a way of life for many Canadians, who flock to the stadium in the thousands to cheer on their hometown team.
Many people want to compare the game to its counterpart in the states, the National Football League, but the comparisons are futile. The comparisons may be in an attempt to understand how the games differ, or it may be to provide fodder to the CFL versus NFL debate, but either way there is some very good football north of the border that you should be watching.
The CFL was founded in 1958, and currently has eight teams aligned in two divisions across Canada. The league had a brief foray into the United States with expansion teams in Baltimore, Las Vegas, Memphis and Sacramento among others, but no American team has lasted longer than two years.
The premise of the game is the same as American football—to score points via touchdown or field goal. There are still four quarters, there is still a quarterback, running back and safety but there are a number of rule changes that make for a very exciting game.
The CFL works with a 10-yard first down system, but instead of having four downs, teams in the CFL only have three. This may seem inconsequential, but the impact that this rule has on the game is enormous.
The main implication of this rule is that there tends to be more passing plays. A stuffed run on first down means that the offense has one shot to get ten yards, otherwise they will have to punt. Running the ball becomes risky which leads to a higher percentage of passing plays.
A strong running game still has a role in Canadian football, but the more popular method of marching the ball down the field is through the air.
With the sheer number of passing plays, and some extremely talented quarterbacks and receivers, there are an amazing amount of highlight reel catches. Check out a few of them above.
Receivers in Motion
We’ve already established the high number of passing plays, but now picture all those passing plays with the wide receivers running as fast as they can at the time the ball is snapped.
Receivers in the CFL are allowed to be in motion at the line of scrimmage, which gives them an advantage. They can stretch the field, gain separation on the defensive backs and get open to make highlight reel catches more often than in the NFL.
This wrinkle in the rules is just another fan-friendly difference that makes the game north of the border incredibly enjoyable for fans.
The Last Three Minutes
In the last the last three minutes of a CFL game, the clock is stopped after all plays. Although this takes a small portion of clock management out of the coach’s hands, it means that there are more changes in possession in the last minutes of the game.
No lead is safe when it takes nearly no time off the clock to get a defensive stop and a quick offensive touchdown. The last three minutes of a CFL game can be some of the most amazing moments because of the clock stoppages.
The 20 Second Play Clock
In the CFL, the play clock is only 20 seconds—compared to 35 in the NFL. That means that plays are run more often than in the NFL and, in turn, more changes in possession. Imagine a play every 15-20 seconds and your favourite team on offense and defense twice as much. Not bad from a spectator’s point of view.
Whatever doubts you had about the game slowing down substantially in the last three minutes should be doused by the 20-second play clock. Even with changes in possession and a stopped clock, the game still moves along at a reasonable rate. It does not become a NBA-like situation where the last 30 seconds of game clock can take 20 minutes.
Although the majority of positions in the CFL are the same as in the NFL, there are a few exceptions. There is no tight end position in the Canadian version of football, but there is a slotback.
A slotback is the ultimate chess piece on the field and a properly used, talented slot back can have a huge impact on a game.
Take the Toronto Argonauts’ Chad Owens for example. He was awarded the 2012 Most Outstanding Player Award in recognition of his 94 receptions for 1,328 yards and 1,588 kick return yards. Owens consistently lined up as a slot receiver, wide out and in the backfield. In other words he was the ultimate roving chess piece that created match-up nightmares for opposing defenses. The slotback position demands a unique kind of versatility that leads to some extremely exciting plays.
As the NHL and NBA seasons come to a close, the only thing keeping avid sports fans satisfied is the MLB, right? Wrong.
Unless you are a WNBA fan—which I’m fairly sure you’re not—there are not many professional summer sports to keep junkies occupied. So take a look at the CFL. They play their games entirely in the summer with the championship in November, just as NFL teams are hitting their stride and ready to share the spotlight.
The CFL may not be a way of life for you like it is for some fans, but it may become an extremely entertaining summer sport if you give it a chance.
No Fair Catch
In the CFL, there is no fair catch. Instead, whenever a kick is being received, the kick returner must be given five yards of space to catch and begin his return.
This means that each kicking play will have some kind of return. This increases the chance of highlight reel touchdowns, long returns and fumbles. This rule keeps the game moving and makes it slightly more fan friendly.
The Rouge and the Kick Back
The rouge, or a single, is a scoring play in Canadian football where a team can score a single point by kicking the ball out the back of the end zone or by having the ball downed in the end zone by the opposing team.
The implications of the rouge are simple. After a missed field goal, defensive teams must decide whether to concede a single point or take the ball out of the end zone and sacrifice field position.
It also means that a game winning field goal may become a game winning rouge. Take the video above as an example. Toronto and Montreal were tied with Montreal lining up for a game winning field goal. But a missed field goal downed in the end zone would mean a single point for Montreal and therefore a win.
Toronto was forced to either run or kick the ball out of the end zone. They chose to put the kicking team on the field and madness ensued when the two teams were kicking the ball back and forth until the ball was dead.
The Live Ball
In the CFL, the ball is always live. Fine, that may be an exaggeration but only by a little. Whereas in the NFL, the play is over after a missed field goal, in the CFL it remains live and can be returned for a touchdown.
Since a rouge can be awarded for a ball downed in the end zone, teams must decide whether to take the ball out of the end zone or concede the single point. As we saw in the last slide, near the end of the game the live ball can lead to an extremely exciting finish.
When the game is not on the line, the live ball means that something is always going on. When the play would be over in the NFL, it continues in the CFL.
What Canadian football fans lack at the collegiate level, they more than make up for at the professional level. The commitment that consumes NCAA fans in the US is similar to what fuels the CFL’s most passionate fans.
Fans in the thousands pack stadiums in Canada, many with their faces painted. From Hamilton’s Oskee Wee Wee chant all the way to Rider Nation, the support that Canadian Football receives from coast to coast is unparalleled.
Even in provinces with no team, there are thousands of fans. Although there are no CFL teams on the East coast, the CFL has started to schedule games in the Maritimes in order to engage that fan base. After 32 hours of ticket sales, the game sold out.
I'll be covering the CFL all season, so join the conversation on twitter: Follow @applebyinc