The official CFL ball is a Wilson Official CFL Game Ball, constructed of Wilson Exclusive leather.
In 2018, the CFL announced changes to the official league ball proposed by the general managers and approved by the board of governors that will see the ball change to the same (harder) leather as the NFL ball and an increased minimum/maximum short circumference of 1/8th of an inch and 1/4 of an inch on the long circumference to match American specs. Initial reactions to the new balls in pre-season were mostly indifference.
The CFL football dimensions are defined in Rule 1, Section 2 of the Rulebook. The official CFL ball is 11 to 11 1/4 inches long with a short circumference range of 21 to 21 1/4 inches and long circumference range of 28 to 28 1/2 inches.
From 1986 to 2017, the official CFL ball specifications were 11 to 11 1/4 inches long with a short circumference range of 20 7/8 to 21 1/8 inches and long circumference range of 27 3/4 to 28 1/4 inches.
While the same ball is not used in both leagues, the CFL and NFL football are similar in size. The CFL does not and has never used the NFL's official football model, "The Duke", as their official football. The following table shows the differences in the specifications from each league's rulebook with links to each ball's page on the Wilson website.
|Colour||Not specified||Natural tan||Natural tan|
|Texture/Leather||Not specified||Pebble-grained without corrugations||Pebble-grained without corrugations|
|Inflation pressure||12.5 to 13.5 psi||12.5 to 13.5 psi||12.5 to 13.5 psi|
|Long circumference||28.0 to 28.5 inches||28.0 to 28.5 inches||27.75 to 28.5 inches|
|Short circumference||21.0 to 21.25 inches||21.0 to 21.25 inches||20.75 to 21.25 inches|
|Length||11.0 inches to 11.25 inches||11.0 inches to 11.25 inches||10.875 inches to 11.4375 inches|
|Weight||14 to 15 ounces||14 to 15 ounces||14 to 15 ounces|
|Laces||4.375 inches long and 1.125 inches wide||Not specified||Eight laces equally spaced|
|Stripes||Two 1-inch wide stripes 3-inches from the greatest circumference of the short axis||None||Two 1-inch wide stripes 3.25-inches from the end of the ball on the two panels adjacent to the laces|
If the current (since 1986) CFL ball specifications are at the maximum limits and the Wilson NFL ball is made to the minimum specs, the CFL ball would be a 1/4 inch larger on the long circumference and 1/8 inch larger on the short circumference. There are also other differences in the ball beside size; the switch to Wilson as the manufacturer did not change the ball to NFL standard manufacturing specs with stripes. These differences, along with the disparity in pro balls vs NCAA balls, may explain the reports of Canadian teams shipping balls to newly signed players so they may get used to the overall differences of the ball.
Wilson provides the league with a minimum 1,948 balls per season; 200 to each team, 100 to the league for the playoffs, and 48 balls for the Grey Cup game.
The CFL used painted on stripes until 2006 when they switched to sewn-on stripes (may be better described as sewn-in stripes) to reduce the slipperiness of the stripes. This experiment lasted a year, and the league switched back to painted-on stripes with no stitching in 2007. The original purpose of the stripes was to provide higher visibility during night games. From the 1983 Canadian Football League Official Playing Rules:
For night games the ball must be of such a colouring as will make it clearly visible. In no case must it blend with the colours of the competing teams.
By 1986, this paragraph was removed and replaced with a specification for the stripe position and width. In the early days of night football under poorer lighting conditions than today, the game was sometimes played with a whitewashed football. Teams, which held evening practices in stadiums without floodlights, would sometimes practice using car lights surrounding the field and a whitewashed ball in the fall as daylight hours became short.
Many believe by sight the CFL ball is currently bigger (generally fatter around the short circumference), perhaps due to continued statements the CFL ball is larger even though that has not been true for over 30 years by specification. The colour difference and stripes are often given as an explanation for the illusion as well. Prior to 1985, the CFL specifications were larger than today's ball, with the long axis circumference specified from 28 to 28 1/2 inches and the short axis circumference between 21 1/8 and 21 3/8 inches1, 1/8th of an inch larger than the current specs. These specifications were in use since the formation of the CFL in 1958. In 1986 the official CFL football specifications were adjusted to better conform with the NFL size. Previously, the CFL accepted balls manufactured to the higher end of the tolerances while the NFL preferred the lower dimensions, which with the range differences resulted in a difference in size, especially in the short circumference of up to 0.375 inches. The Spalding balls, manufactured by hand, had a wider range of sizes and tended to not hold their shape, resulting in increasing complaints in 1985, and a switch to new ball specs in a new contract with Spalding in 1986.2 Stats_Man has some more information on the 1980's size change. See also the original June 19th, 1985 Canadian Press article (I believe the Spalding marketing director Tom Wright mentioned in the article is the later president of Spalding Canada and future CFL Commissioner 2002-2006).
Spalding Canada held the contract as the supplier of official CFL footballs until 1995 when they were replaced by Wilson. Spalding had hand-made the J5V in Canada for decades, but they were always in short supply. Their new bid called for the ball to be manufactured in (South) Korea. The CFL instead opted to switch to the American made Wilson football (Spalding Canada was a wholly owned subsidiary of Spalding with manufacturing facilities in Canada). Any indication that the Wilson ball was machine-made may be a misnomer, as Wilson's current info page indicates the 3-layer lining is hand-stiched to the football panels and how it is made videos seem to indicate all Wilson footballs are hand-made and I don't believe this has changed in the past 30 years, though hand-made with machine tools is likely the proper description for both.
This may have not been the first switch to Wilson. The league perhaps switched to a Wilson manufactured ball in 1961, though for how long I have not been able to determine.
The J5V model was not a signifier of the Canadian football size or specs but a Spalding brand that continues today in its rubber and composite footballs sold in the US. Spalding Canada closed its Brantford manufacturing facility in 1982, and ceased all manufacturing in Canada in 1996.
In 1996, the CFL introduced the Radically Canadian marketing campaign which included the Our Balls Are Bigger slogan. Though championed by the league COO Jeff Giles for its edginess, it stirred some controversy not only for being in poor taste but for being inaccurate also:
Players have taken the slogan to mean that the CFL's football is bigger than the NFL's.
Although that was true for decades, the dimensions of both footballs are now essentially the same.
"There's no difference in the balls now," Winnipeg quarterback Kent Austin said recently.
"I used to have a tough time holding CFL footballs because they were so big. But they're the same size as the NFL balls these days."
It appears despite the specification change, the Spalding balls continued to prefer the maximum limits until the early 1990s or perhaps through their contract until they were replaced by Wilson in 1995 (so Giles may have been 2 years too late). Comments by Erik Kramer (Calgary, 1988-89) in 1990 reinforce Austin's views (who entered the league in 1987) there was a continued size difference in the late 1980's.
"It feels great to throw an NFL ball again instead of that big balloon they have in Canada," Kramer told the Los Angeles Times in April '90.
Contrast the current size with one of the earliest specifications from 1906: 11 inches long, 23 inches in circumference and 13 3/4 ounces3.
Picture of 1967 CFL footballs at Spalding awaiting delivery to the CFL.
Craig Robinson lists the American and Canadian footballs the same size on his infographic of sports ball sizes.
1— Facts, Figures and Records: 1985 Edition (Toronto: Canadian Football League, 1985), Divider 6 – Rules, pg 1, Rule 1, Section 2: The Ball and CFL Official Playing Rules 1983 (Toronto: Canadian Football League, 1983), Section 2: The Ball, 6.
2— Frank Cosentino, A Passing Game (Winnipeg: Bain & Cox, 1995), 238-239.
3— Facts, Figures and Records: 2008 Edition, (Toronto: Canadian Football League), 287.
Starting in 2018, each team must provide 12 footballs that meet the league's new ball specifications (and official Wilson footballs marked with the Commissioner's signature) to be used when their offence is on the field. Each team provides twelve (12) balls marked with the team's name to the Game Officials 90 minutes before game time. The balls specifications are confirmed and from this point forward, the game balls are under the control of the officials or the ball attendant(s), who are appointed by the Officiating Supervisor. Another twelve (12) balls are provided by the home team as Kicking Balls (K-balls). If the visiting team runs out of offensive balls, they will use Kicking Balls for the remainder of the game, and the home team is required to have on hand a sufficient supply of Kicking Balls should they be required due to weather or other circumstances. Between both teams offences and kicking balls, 36 balls may be used during a regular game, though the rulebook still refers to 18 even though team and K-ball updates to 12 increase the total.
From 2014 to 2017, each team provided six (6) balls for their offence, and the home team provided another six (6) Kicking Balls for a minimum of 18. The adoption of Kicking Balls and the changes to the ball supply rules were explained at the time. Prior to 2014, the CFL did not use K-balls (or balls specifically only used on kicking plays).
The game balls used by each team are from the 200 official balls delivered to each team each season as part of the contract with Wilson.
A Rachel Brady Globe and Mail article on the balls used in the 2017 Grey Cup game provides details on the balls, ball preparation, K-balls and pre-game procedures for the championship game, which differ in the number of K-balls provided by the host.
A 2014 media report from Edmonton suggests with the new team supplied ball rules, players in that city are "fined" $75 for throwing a ball in the stands in celebration as game used footballs are supplied to high school football programs in the Edmonton area. In an earlier 2011 article, it was claimed CFL players are charged for the footballs they throw into the stands, though this may be because of a long held belief. It is my belief that since the balls were provided to the league/teams at no or marginal cost, this was not to recoup costs or for profit, but as seen above as a deterrent because the limited number of balls available were destined for amateur football programs or sale as game-used souvenir balls. The practice of charging players was first reported in an earlier time where deterring the loss of game balls was important to the integrity of the game. It is possible a team may provide for balls players keep for significant events, such as league or team records or balls given to family members, leaving only randomly thrown, kicked or delivered footballs charged to players. If the charge is truly a fine, then the $75 is the maximum that can be charged without the amount being remitted to the CFLPA, and the funds must be used for the benefit of all players on the team.
With the introduction of team provided footballs for their own offence, throwing, kicking or otherwise directing an opponents ball into the stands or removing from the field of play resulted in an objectionable conduct penalty in 2014 and 2015. This would usually occur after a turnover or fumble, but would apply at any time in the game. Starting in 2016, this restriction was removed and defensive players are now allowed to direct the opponents ball into the stands after turnovers. If the visiting team as a result would run out of balls for their offence, they would use K-balls for the remainder of the game, while the home team has the ability to provide additional balls that meet the new ball standard for use. This provides further evidence of an evolution of the situation where tossing/kicking/keeping balls in normal practices is allowed as long as it is for an appropriate reason and does not jeopardize the game by depleting the team's game balls.
The process prior to 2014 was for the home team to supply a minimum of eighteen (18) new footballs to the officials dressing room at least one hour before game time per the CFL Regulations. At least in 1999 and earlier the number of footballs supplied was twelve (12); I don't have an exact year when the number increased. The home team must provide the officials dressing room with a ball gauge and pump and the officials will check and measure the balls to ensure they conform with the new ball specifications. Balls will be rotated through the game and kept dry using towels supplied by the home club to the ball attendant(s). A balls continued use would depend on the weather conditions, condition of the ball and even location of the ball (ball swapped out when thrown or kicked out of bounds to speed play).
Though lacking a reference, it is my belief prior to the current process that the CFL allowed representatives from each team access to the game balls before the game for a period to prepare the balls. Preparation involved rubbing the balls with a damp towel or a brush supplied by the manufacturer Wilson in order to remove a slippery, waxy covering the balls ship with. Reader Gerry has confirmed this practice from a video on the BC Lions website, but I do not have a link. If you have a link to this or another source confirming this prior practice, please contact me. (I may have confused CFL practices with this article, or perhaps this has been mentioned on a broadcast in recent years.) This practice of brief access has all been eliminated since each team can and does supply their own prepared balls for their own offensive use now, and preparation/access does not need to be scheduled.
If the current Wilson agreement is similar to past agreements (125 balls were provided per team in 1986), Wilson would supply each each with a number of footballs each year for free (most to be used as game balls). The CFL would also receive a number of Grey Cup balls for free, plus additional footballs at a discounted price. The current official Wilson CFL football retails for approximately $100.
For place kicks (field goal and convert attempts) the kicking tee platform or block can be no higher than one inch in height as per Rule 5, Section 1, Article 3 of the CFL Rulebook. For kickoffs, the ball may be held or placed on a tee such that the lowest part of the ball is no higher than three inches off the ground.
Kicking tees are not required to be used. Kickers may kick off the ground if they desire.
CFL teams are required to provide all necessary equipment to participate in practices and games. Required equipment would include the helmet, shoulder pads and the uniform (jersey, pants, socks). The requirements are laid out in Section 34.15 of the CBA.
Shoes are covered under item (b) of the Section and is dependent on existence of an sponsorship agreement between a corporation and the CFL to provide shoes to the players. Currently, an agreement exists between the CFL and Reebok to provide shoes to players. If players wish to wear another brand of shoe, they may, but the logos must be obscured during games.
Article 33 of the CBA (page 86) explains the obligation of equipment and clothing for players and the CFLPA provided by the CFL through its sponsor Reebok.
In 2010 the CFL introduced one-way radio headsets in quarterback helmets. Starting in 2016 the radios allow communication from a coach to the quarterback continuously (Calgary Herald). Previously, until the end of the 2015 season, communication was open for the period between the stoppage of play until there was 10 seconds left on the play clock, at which time the radio signal was turned off until the end of the play. Full rules around the original operation of the radio helmets can be found in the article announcing their introduction.
Teams have three radio equipped helmets, one for each QB, with only one allowed to be active on field at a time. The helmets are marked with a "Q" identifying decal.
The radio helmet technology was tested during the 2008 and 2009 pre-seasons before being adopted permanently in 2010.