The 2017 CFL season is officially in the books following the Toronto Argonauts’ 27-24 Grey Cup victory over the Calgary Stampeders. Below are my thoughts on the game along with a few other key off-season issues.
Money, money, money
CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie made waves this past week when he suggested that Grey Cup games may soon be played in October, almost three full weeks sooner than the earliest Grey Cup game of all-time (the 1997 Grey Cup was played on November 16).
There are a lot of moving parts to the argument both for and against moving up the CFL schedule — tradition, cold weather, snow, competition with the Stanley Cup playoffs, competition with the NFL, etc. — but there’s really only one factor that matters to the CFL office: money.
The CFL has been selling its American television rights to ESPN for a paltry sum for close to a decade now. Former commissioner Mark Cohon — the man who made the first ESPN broadcast agreement in the late 2000s — didn’t see the deal as an opportunity to make money, but as a chance to gain exposure south of the border. Now that the CFL is getting a fair amount of attention from an American audience, it may be time to capitalize by negotiating a more lucrative broadcasting agreement.
And I believe the league will get it.
Hope you watched an almost out of it underdog storm back to tie, go ahead, and intercept the last pass in the Grey Cup rather than this missionary position Sunday Night NFL snoozer
— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) November 27, 2017
It was a fumble in our Grey Cup that made a difference & tonight it went our way.
— Joe Theismann (@Theismann7) November 27, 2017
Former Texans WR DeVier Posey was named the Grey Cup MVP.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 27, 2017
Grey cup > super bowl
Fight me Americans
— Meghan Chayka (@MeghanChayka) November 27, 2017
More and more Americans take an interest in the CFL every year for a number of reasons.
For one, many big-name college stars who end up in the CFL bring with them legions of fans who want to follow their careers through the pros. Players like DeVier Posey, Trent Richardson, Darvin Adams, Tommie Campbell, and James Wilder Jr. all come from huge football schools with massive fan bases. Seeing former college stars enjoy professional success in Canada should only turn more American fans onto the Canadian game.
Secondly, the CFL is phenomenally entertaining — I’ve been following it and the NFL for almost twenty years and the 2017 season was as compelling a campaign as I’ve seen north or south of the border. With a shorter play clock, more passing, and all types of shenanigans (ie. game-winning rouges, kickbacks, etc.) that don’t exist in the American game, Canadian football is a delightful alternative to the ground-and-pound, clock management game of the NFL.
Finally, the CFL kicks off three months prior to the NFL regular season. This is where moving the schedule earlier comes into play — the more games the CFL can play before September, the more a potential CFL television deal would be worth south of the border.
Randy Ambrosie is a smart man. He knows how to generate new revenue streams for a league that, despite its success in markets like Regina, Winnipeg, Ottawa, and Edmonton, has areas of concern in cities like Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal.
NBC Sports reported this past week that the CFL is looking to alter its schedule for the purpose of negotiating a broadcasting deal with the NFL Network. If the NFL Network is interested in negotiating for the television rights currently owned by ESPN, that should positively affect the CFL’s ability to demand a good dollar amount for its product.
I like having the Grey Cup in November as much as any CFL fan, but the league needs to maximize its money-making opportunities. If moving the season up by a month means bringing a significant new source of revenue to the league, consider me first in line to attend an April preseason game.
A league divi(sion)ed cannot stand
Some people (Hamilton Tiger-Cat owner Bob Young among them) used Sunday’s Grey Cup result as a means of criticizing those who argue in favor of a one-division CFL.
It’s a fair argument — Toronto, after all, beat the mighty Stampeders despite going just 9-9 in the regular season. The win marked the fifth time in the past nine years that an East Division club has won the Grey Cup, three of which (Toronto, 2012; Ottawa, 2016; Toronto, 2017) were captured by teams with a record of at or below .500.
Even so, consider me permanently in favor of a one-division CFL. Seeing Toronto win the Grey Cup as the fifth seed in a six-team playoff structure would have made the club’s championship all the more exciting, earning them even greater underdog status in the season’s final game.
And if the Argonauts failed to win a championship in that playoff structure, so be it. The entire purpose of the regular season is to fairly seed teams for the playoffs. If a team’s championship aspirations are hampered by disadvantageous playoff seeding, it should be due the club’s regular season record — not the division the team happens to play in.
Cal-gry on my wayward son
Following Sunday’s Grey Cup loss, the team I am most intrigued to keep tabs on this off-season is the Calgary Stampeders. The off-season is usually fairly uneventful in Cowtown, but this winter could be the most interesting one in Calgary in quite some time.
Marquay McDaniel’s comments after the Grey Cup were simply inexcusable. He may have just suffered an emotional loss, but blaming a teammate for losing the game is a recipe for disaster in the all-important inner workings of a locker room. To make matters worse, some loser (ie. me) posted a video of McDaniel giving little to no effort to make a tackle on the return that followed Kamar Jorden’s fourth quarter fumble. Blaming a teammate for a mistake is inexcusable; doing so following a lack of effort is unforgivable.
— John Hodge (formerly Blue Bomber Talk) (@JohnDHodge) November 27, 2017
Say the Stampeders move on from McDaniel following his comments on Sunday. He may be 33 (34 in April), but the veteran receiver is still Bo Levi Mitchell’s safety blanket and a perennial 1,000-yard guy. Poor attitude or not, replacing him is easier said than done.
Then comes the potential ripple effect. How will veterans like Brandon Smith (33), Jerome Messam (32), Josh Bell (32), and Charleston Hughes (33) respond to McDaniel’s absence? Shaking up the core leadership group of a team can have a dramatic effect on a club — positive or negative. Can Calgary manage its (somewhat aging) roster for the better this off-season?
And then there’s the matter of the club’s coaching staff. Stampeder general manager John Hufnagel won’t be happy about losing a second consecutive Grey Cup — while I’m sure head coach Dave Dickenson’s job is safe, I wouldn’t rule out changes elsewhere in the organization. There could also be involuntary changes coming to Calgary in the form of teams poaching members of staff — Montreal is currently in search of a head coach, while B.C. is expected to be looking for a head coach following the 2018 season.
In any case, the oft-boring Stampeders could be the most interesting team to watch in the CFL this off-season.
Talk is cheap
Stampeder defensive back Tommie Campbell expressed some frustration following his omission from the West Division all-star team two weeks ago. Campbell, passed over for teammate Ciante Evans and Winnipeg’s Chris Randle, went the entire 2017 season without allowing a touchdown or 100-yard game. Campbell’s omission was discussed twice during Nik Lewis’ ‘Real Talk’ segment on 3DownNation this week, both by Calgary defensive coordinator DeVone Claybrooks and veteran defensive back Jamar Wall.
Unfortunately for Campbell, the five-year NFLer gave up a 100-yard touchdown in the second quarter of the Grey Cup to eventual game MVP DeVier Posey.
Party, party, party!
The city of Ottawa received widespread acclaim for its Grey Cup festivities this past weekend, earning praise for the quality of its transportation, communication, and organizing committee.
— Milt Stegall (@MiltStegallTSN) November 27, 2017
Overwhelming sentiment from fans, media & everyone I talked to this week: Ottawa knocked it out of the park with this Grey Cup. Kudos to OSEG & all of Ottawa for being tremendous hosts.
— AJ Jakubec (@AJonSports) November 27, 2017
Thank you @CFL for choosing Ottawa to host the 2017 Grey Cup! It is estimated that the week long festival and game will invest $100 million into our local economy. Thanks also to our hundreds of amazing volunteers helping make the week a success ! @2017ottawa
— Jim Watson (@JimWatsonOttawa) November 26, 2017
— Devin Heroux (@Devin_Heroux) November 27, 2017
Had a wonderful time in Ottawa 4 the 105th Grey Cup! Thx to the organizers & volunteers. But always the best part is reuniting with the many friends from across this country! Safe travels to everyone and see you all in my hometown next year in Edmonton! #GREYCUP #CFL #oneempire
— Tree (@TheEskieChick) November 27, 2017
Another fantastic #GreyCup week. Ottawa & the @REDBLACKS were incredible hosts & @CFL fans proved once again they have no peer when it comes to supporting their league and having a good time. What a party. Edmonton, you're up next!
— Andrew Paterson (@hustlerama) November 27, 2017
Thanks to everyone in Ottawa who made this such a warm, kind, memorable, fun week. There's nothing like Grey Cup.
— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) November 27, 2017
What an incredible week. #YOW #Ottawa you are a fantastic city & a wonderful #GreyCup host. The game tonight was fantastic (the result kicked ass too) & the people all this week were amazing. This is why I love the @CFL #IsItJuneYet #PifflesDoesGreyCup
— Alex Dormuth (@RealAlexD) November 27, 2017
After a few middling Grey Cup experiences (2014 in B.C. and 2015 in Winnipeg were considered moderate successes, while 2016 in Toronto was a disaster), it appears Ottawa has reestablished the blueprint for Grey Cup success: a) don’t overcharge for tickets, b) have a centralized location for all parties and fan events, and c) offer good-quality, free transportation around town.
That’s it. If host sites are capable of providing those three things, there is no reason why any Canadian city can’t play host to a great Grey Cup festival. I intend to be at next year’s game in Edmonton — here’s hoping the positive momentum from Ottawa carries over into next season.