Published on November 12, 2008 10:34 PM by dbo.
Damien Cox of thestar.com opens up the topic of whether East-West means anything in the CFL anymore. Last year Saskatchewan and Winnipeg faced off in the Grey Cup in Toronto. This year there is the possibility Edmonton could play Calgary in an all Alberta Grey Cup in Montreal. Does that really hurt the CFL? It does because the East is where fan support needs to be strongest for the league’s advertisers. Gone are the days an all-Canadian league will be watched across all regions, so a regular Eastern presence is important to the league’s championship game.
Cox says the the CFL is one of the few remaining leagues that tries to define itself through geography. Yet I see MLB, NHL, NBA and NFL all use regional designations in their divisions. MLB and the NFL just happen to have separate leagues as the result of amalgamation (American and National leagues in baseball, NFC and AFC in the NFL) that means teams from each league face off for the championship, which could be from the same geographical area. The NHL’s and NBA’s playoff systems ensures a championship series against Western and Eastern Division opponents. The CFL is not all that unusual amongst the other major professional leagues.
Cox suggests that using a single eight team division (presumably with the top six teams making the playoffs, the top two receiving byes and the other four teams facing off in semi-finals of 3 vs 6 and 4 vs 5) may be the evolution from the current geographical divisions. He does concede there are a lot of issues to consider before making such a move. Commissioner Marc Cohon states “I haven’t heard from our fans or our teams that this is a burning issue.”
Then come the commenters. As usual, all the CFL‘s problems solved in three sentences or less. Just add teams in Ottawa and the Maritimes — bingo! two 5-team divisions. Why didn’t the CFL think of that? The CFL does have a conditional franchise awarded to an Ottawa group, but the issue with any CFL expansion site, be it Ottawa, Quebec City, Moncton or Halifax, is there are no stadiums to play in.
Chandler suggests (and admits he does not watch the CFL) that the Grey Cup should be played in one of the participants cities. Obviously he fails to understand the Grey Cup is a five day festival. Eliminating the festival may be one thing, but trying to even sell tickets one week in advance would be too risky. Which team gets to host the game? No, football is a one-game playoff and needs a championship site know well in advance. This is not an unusual practice.
Another suggestion is to have limited inter-divisional play and expand the league. While you are at it, move the Argos to Quebec City because they don’t get any support. When are people actually going to comment from reality? I would like to see the Argos given to this guy so he can move them to Quebec City. He might be surprised when he finds no stadium to play in when he gets there (or goes broke in a 10,000 seat stadium when in Toronto they are averaging close to 30,000 fans per game).
There is no reason to believe the CFL will not stick with their divisional format and crossover system as an eight team league. There will be the hope that this year sees an East-West matchup (which would mean the host Montreal would be in the game), but if not we will find out what another all-western contest will mean. In the longer term the hope is that stronger clubs in Ontario will provide more odds of an Eastern team representing the East every year.
If the conditional Ottawa franchise is awarded, then the league will switch Winnipeg back to the West as it is Winnipeg’s desire to play there, no matter the better playoff odds of being in the East division. The crossover rule will be in effect, but I believe it should be suspended for perhaps three or four years as Ottawa establishes itself. The other option with nine teams is to divide the league into three divisions, with the top two clubs in each division making the playoffs, the top two seeded teams getting first-round byes and the remainder of the teams seeded by order of record. I would like to see this discussed as an option until a tenth team is added. These changes are not taken lightly when they are not long term as they throw out comparisons and record keeping like the one year North-South divisional alignment did.
If the CFL is able to get to nine teams and then is successful in adding a tenth franchise, balanced five team divisions and schedules should create a greater competitiveness. The crossover rule could be in effect, but would more likely be an equal opportunity chance for teams to crossover and not be a frequent occurrence.
Adding the ninth and tenth franchises is a major task in itself. Stadium challenges are the first issue to be dealt with and the conditional Ottawa group are working towards something in Ottawa presently. Whether that is successful or not, the CFL will likely proceed with pursuing ownership groups in Quebec City and Atlantic Canada. These will likely be franchises granted on the condition of obtaining acceptable stadium leases as well.
Adding franchises will take time and is not as simple as snapping ones fingers or finding someone with the resources to operate a club. The stadium issues are complex in all centers due to the cost of construction and the reluctance of any level of government to commit monies to these projects in these times. Across the country there is talk, plans or proposals for major stadium refurbishment or new stadiums in Regina, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Ottawa, Quebec City, Moncton and Halifax and none have had any government money formally committed to them.
A ten team league is definitely a goal the league is working on as it grows the league and solves many of the East-West balance issues the CFL has today. To get to ten teams though will take time, at least 5 to 10 years. Beyond that, twelve teams are not out of the question 20 to 30 years down the road. For fans, this is the ultimate goal to see clubs from sea to sea, with perhaps two teams in the Maritimes, two in Quebec, three in Ontario and five in the west. The league could align in three divisions of four teams as well. At this point regional traditions won’t be necessary but will be celebrated when teams from across Canada can play for Canadian football’s championship trophy.