Stimulus to CFL Expansion No. 4: Work More Closely with the CIS

Steve ThompsonAnalyst IIIOctober 13, 2009

Who was the No. 1 draft choice in Canada?

John Tavares.

Almost every sports fan in Canada knew that.

But this is a football article, and John Tavares plays hockey. Now who was the No. 1 player in the CFL draft?

If you are like me, you don't know and don't care. That is the difference between hockey and football in Canada, and that is something that the CFL does little to correct.

It is also part of the reason why the CFL still only has eight or nine Canadian teams.

If the CFL wants to put down more roots in Canada and increase its market, not just for expansion purposes, it is going to have to work far more closely with Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS).

What they do now is not enough, and going to the CFL's official website says it all.

As far as Canadian University Football goes, there is a list of the top 15 potential draft choices, which doesn't get upgraded weekly, and a link to the CIS official website.

Whether it is too expensive or whether they just can't be bothered, the CFL does not work closely enough with CIS football. Announcers on TSN broadcasts will sometimes enthusiastically mention Canadian universities and recent scores, but that is it.

Going down the top 15 list is revealing.  There is not one running back or quarterback—the two most glamorous positions in football—listed. 

In the first of this series of articles, I pointed out the importance of developing Canadian quarterbacks to stimulate expansion interest. Evidently the CFL doesn't think any Canadian quarterback or running back is good enough.

But what does the CFL do to correct this situation? Nothing. It is content with the status quo. It has no programs set up or ways or means to make university players at these two key positions good enough.

The other revealing thing about the list is that half the players are in American universities.

This tells two stories.

First, Canadian universities don't develop enough players. There are only 27 Canadian universities with football programs. Several other universities—Lakehead, Laurentian, Carleton, Dalhousie, New Brunswick, and Brock, to name a few off the top of my head—don't have teams.

Even some of the universities that enter teams, like the University of Toronto, don't allot much money to their football programs.

Second, if a Canadian wants a top football career, he may have to leave Canada. He doesn't have to do that if he wants to play hockey.

Another key problem is at the coaching level. In contrast to the NFL, which regularly recruits many of its head coaches from the college level, few CFL coaches come from the CIS ranks.

Unlike the NFL, which can afford to let college football run itself, the CFL is going to have to take the initiative if it wants football to grow in Canada. Just what should be done is difficult to determine, and given the CFL's limited resources, any money allotted should be spent carefully and wisely.

But correcting the two problems of player position and coaching development should be the starting point.

Laval, Western, and Laurier, universities in Quebec, London, and Kitchener, the three best cities for immediate CFL expansion, all have some of the best football programs in Canada. 

They are the starting point for future Canadian football player development. They are the future for the CFL.