Published on October 26, 2013 1:38 PM by dbo.
Update: This has been updated from the original content to reflect the changes introduced with the 2014 CBA. Terminology, roster sizes and more have been updated to make the information here current. Information can become outdated, so be sure to refer to the latest sources for current information.
CFL roster restrictions are one of the most misunderstood aspects of the league and the subject of many questions to CFLdb recently. While the end result is often explained correctly (or close to correctly), it leaves open questions to many trying to grasp these restrictions. To truly understand the roster restrictions, one must start at the beginning, not the result.
Many believe and explain the rules as explicit restrictions/requirements on the number of International starters/National starters or National players on the field. However there is no rule specifically stating the number of National players on the field or in starting positions.
The roster size definitions permit a maximum of 20 International players, 3 quarterbacks and minimum of 21 National players. By this alone, a team could start 20 Internationals and one QB for 21 of 24 positions (considering offence/defence only), leaving only 3 starting positions for Nationals. This is where the designated international rule comes into play.
Using the 44-man roster size, 4 International players must be named as designated internationals. Designated internationals may only replace another International player on offence or defence or play unrestricted on special teams. This prevents these 4 International players from starting on offence or defence, effectively increasing the number of National players who must start to 7. So while there is nothing explicit stating the number of International/National on the field (giving teams the flexibility to decide across offence/defence how they want to deploy their roster), the restrictions on the International players results in a minimum number of National starters coaches must declare when submitting game rosters (and no ability for those National players to be replaced by a designated international). If teams decide to start less than the 16 Internationals allowed, those backup International players are allowed to replace a National. A corollary to the 4 designated International positions is 4 National starter positions are backed up by Nationals, which makes National talent and depth important.
The rule is effective in its intent and without loopholes. It doesn’t mandate National players as starters, who could be pulled out of the game after one play and replaced by an International under such wording. While it seems to encourage limited use of National players, only the quality of players and built in bias do that. Teams with depth in National players do start more than the necessary 7 National players and the CFLPA and League may increase the required National players as the quality and quantity of these players increases. However, this discussion has other factors, most importantly to the owner side the cost of players so discussion of changing the roster requirements is for another article.
Besides Article 23 of the CBA setting out the roster size and restrictions, Rule 4, Section 4, Article 6 of the rulebook sets out the rule for officials to track designated internationals. I encourage everyone to review those for a complete understanding of these restrictions.
There are additional roster restrictions on the quarterback position as well, though those are generally straight forward and well understood. Over at CFLdb Razzle Dazzle we have a Roster Makeup graphic that explains the nuanaces of all the roster lists (let me know if it doesn’t).