The CFL: This Is Our League. Does Anyone Care?
Well, another Grey Cup has come and gone. Congratulations to the Montreal Alouettes on their victory, but I’m not here to talk about that.
I’m aware it may not be considered fashionable to say this, but I enjoy watching the CFL. When I lived in Toronto for a year, the first live sporting event I went to was an Argonauts game against the Hamilton Tiger-cats. Right from the word go, I found the game to be extremely entertaining. However, I also had my first experience of an ongoing problem that the CFL has to deal with: a lack of respect.
This was the first home game for the Argos after Damon Allen broke professional football’s hallowed record for passing yards in a career, overtaking Warren Moon. Regardless of where Allen played ball, it was still a pretty big deal, but you wouldn’t have guessed it if you looked around the Rogers Centre. The stadium was only half-full for this momentous occasion and those who were there didn’t seem particularly bothered.
My concern wasn’t helped by three ‘fans’ sat behind me, who spent the whole game criticising the CFL. In particular, they kept comparing it to the NFL, basically saying how superior the U.S. version is.
Now this may or may not be the case, but if I wasn’t on my own (having just arrived in Canada three days earlier), I would have been tempted to tell them to take a hike and go to Buffalo or Detroit for a game if they loved the NFL so much. I’m guessing the punks didn’t have the money and were just looking for something to do, but hopefully you can appreciate my frustration.
What’s my point in all of this? You’d think I had one, wouldn’t you? Okay, okay, I do. My point, or rather my question is, ‘What can the CFL do to get more respect within the world of professional sports?’ I’m glad I asked. Here’s what I propose:
I know this has been talked about for a while now, but we need to actually get this in motion…..and soon. Ten teams would be about right, meaning two extra franchises. The CFL needs to make their product a genuine, coast-to-coast league. I have heard a lot of people talk about having a team in Halifax. With a population of around 370,000 people, but with no other professional sports teams, it’s possible. The main questions to ask are ‘can Halifax provide a top-class stadium?’ and ‘is it financially viable?’ I say yes, but it’s up to the CFL to consider the logistics and make a decision.
The CFL also needs to get the Ottawa situation resolved once and for all. While the nation’s capital has been awarded a conditional franchise, you don’t want a similar scenario to last time when the team disbanded after just three seasons. Of course it would be good to have a team in the nation’s capital, but there are other alternatives, the main one being Quebec City. With a population of over 700,000, it’s definitely a viable option.
I would then realign the league as follows:
WEST DIVISION EAST DIVISION
British Columbia Halifax
Saskatchewan Ottawa / Quebec City
The layout would allow for current rivalries to remain intact (e.g. the battle of Alberta between Calgary and Edmonton and the Ontario rivalry between Hamilton and Toronto) as well as the potential for new ones (Montreal v Quebec City and Saskatchewan v Winnipeg.)
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The ten-team league would make things better almost immediately. With the current 18-game regular season, each team can match up against everyone else twice, home and away. No more playing teams three or four times a season. I would keep the one-week bye and two pre-season games in place.
The CFL should also have its own day, much like the NFL has Sunday. After considering all possibilities, it makes most sense to go with Saturday. However, there are certain concessions that would have to be made. For example, whether the CFL likes to admit it or not, Hockey Night in Canada gets more attention and will always take precedent. As such, have two games beginning at 1.00pm and another couple at 4.00pm (all Eastern Standard Time). Hopefully, save for overtime, the late kick-offs should finish around the time that Hockey Night in Canada begins.
Another advantage of daytime games at the weekend is the capacity for increased attendances (admittedly these are already pretty good around the league except for Toronto, but there’s always room for improvement.) For example, more children would be able to go and it would be a good excuse for families to spend time together having fun. Also (and yes, this is aimed at people like myself) guys could get together for a day of sport, going to a CFL game before heading on to watch Hockey night in Canada in a sports bar somewhere. Finally, the weekend daytime games make it possible for more opulent fans to travel and follow their team on the road and still have time to get back for work on Monday.
One exception to the above would be Thanksgiving Day weekend. Move two games to the Monday (preferably two home teams who traditionally get good crowds regardless of it being Thanksgiving.)
One thing I wouldn’t change is Friday night football, which has been a success. It should remain as the one game every week for two teams to be on national TV. I would tailor the schedule to give every team at least two appearances every season in the national spotlight on prime-time TV.
Now of course, TSN may be concerned about still being able to show every game, especially given the amount of money they have invested (thank you TSN.) Luckily, this is where their extra channel comes in. Using the two 1.00pm kick-offs as an example, show one game on TSN and the other on TSN2. If they are still concerned about the armchair fans getting to watch every game, show full game replays during the week at some point.
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I have always hated the fact that six of the eight teams qualify for the playoffs. This is 75 percent of the league, almost making the regular season irrelevant. If you want respect around the sporting world, this is not the way to get it. There should never be a situation where a losing team even makes the playoffs, never mind wins the Grey Cup (e.g. the 2000 B.C. Lions and the 2001 Calgary Stampeders.)
As such, regardless of the CFL expanding to ten teams, I would cut the playoff spots from six to four. No more crossovers between the divisions either. Two teams make it from the East and two from the West. Then it’s on to the championship games before finishing with the Grey Cup: simple, effective and (hopefully) giving the CFL some much needed credibility.
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I’m not talking major changes here. The CFL is a unique league and for the most part, I like how it’s presented. For example, the bigger field, fewer downs and twelve players per side.
However, one rule has to go: the one-point play. No team should be rewarded for what is basically failure. No one should ever benefit from their own mistakes, except for me. I would also scrap the current overtime system. Go to the sudden-death format. However, I wouldn’t have a situation where games can finish tied. Keep playing overtime until someone scores.
Now of course, I’m not saying that any of this is foolproof, but I definitely believe that putting some of these ideas into motion can help the league. Before you know it, the CFL will hopefully be recognised with a bit more respect from people within the rest of the sporting world, both fans and media alike.
I, for one, would like nothing more.