Five reasons why the CFL needs to scrap the divisions

Editor’s Note: Be sure to check out Josh Smith’s piece on why the divisions need to stay.

1. Show me the money

The CFL’s divisional structure has cost western teams a huge amount of money over the past fifteen-plus years. How? Consider this.

Players are not compensated by their teams during the playoffs — instead, players receive postseason game cheques from the league itself. Because of this, playoff gate revenue is almost pure profit for CFL teams who are lucky enough to host postseason games.

This means that teams who finish below second place in their own division but ahead of the first and/or second place team in the league’s other division lose out on big dollars.

Western teams that would have hosted a playoff game in a single-division CFL include the 2014 Saskatchewan Roughriders, 2014 B.C. Lions, 2013 B.C. Lions, 2011 Calgary Stampeders, 2008 B.C. Lions, 2005 Edmonton Eskimos, 2003 Saskatchewan Roughriders, and 2002 B.C. Lions. Using an attendance figure of 28,000 (the rough average attendance for the past few West Finals) and an average ticket price of $60.00 as a framework, this means that West Division squads have lost out on approximately $15-million in playoff gate revenue since 2002 — an average of $1-million per season.

The 2004 Hamilton Tiger-Cats (9-8-1) also missed out on hosting a playoff game due to the league’s divisional structure. The Ticats finished third in the East in 2004, but ahead of the West’s first and second-place Eskimos (9-9) and Roughriders (9-9). This demonstrates that a single-division CFL would be financially beneficial for talented teams across the league regardless of whether they currently belong to the East or West. The four best teams in the CFL should host playoff games every year and enjoy the on and off-field benefits that come with hosting a postseason game.

2. Most games are inter-divisional anyway

Before the return of Ottawa in 2014, CFL teams played against their divisional foes three or four times per season. These frequent meetings ensured that the standings would be decided largely on their play against one another in divisional contests.

That all changed when the Redblacks were founded in 2014. Eastern teams play ten of their eighteen regular season games versus West Division opponents, a whopping 56 percent of their schedules. Does it really make sense for eastern teams to compete for playoff positioning within their division when they play one other so infrequently? Toronto and Montreal — two teams that are currently fighting to get back into the East Division playoff picture — play twice this season, the same number of times they each play Calgary, B.C., and Edmonton. That doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The Bombers and Riders have also proven that two teams don’t need to be in the same division to maintain a rivalry. Winnipeg and Saskatchewan were in different divisions from 1997-2001 and again from 2006-2013 — the rivalry never tempered, remaining hot and hostile despite its inter-divisional nature. Would the Argos and Ticats hate each other any less if the CFL’s scrapped its divisional structure? What about the Stampeders and Eskimos?

The answer to these questions, of course, is no. Geographical rivalries will always exists, even if the teams are no longer divvied up into small four and five-team divisions. A single-division CFL would also help foster new rivalries — with all nine teams vying for the same playoff spots, clubs that never would have competed for postseason positioning under the old divisional system would suddenly be forced to do so. There are already some good cross-division rivalries in the CFL — Ottawa and Calgary come to mind as one example — all of which would be amplified by the creation of a single-division CFL.

3. The Grey Cup should feature the CFL’s two best teams

With all due respect to the 2015 Ottawa Redblacks, the Grey Cup game last November didn’t feature the CFL’s two best teams. Instead, those two teams — Edmonton and Calgary — met in the West Final.

This has happened far too often over the past decade. The Grey Cup is our country’s greatest annual celebration of Canadian sport — a sacred tradition of our nation’s top league. Why, then, should we settle for anything but the league’s two best teams vying for the CFL’s top prize?

Some will suggest that fans from the east wouldn’t watch a B.C./Calgary Grey Cup, but I don’t believe that for a second. Fans are attracted by great football above all else — not regional interest. As a Manitoban, I’d far rather watch an Alouette/Ticat Grey Cup than an Alouette/Stampeder Grey Cup provided that Montreal and Hamilton were the two best teams in the league.

Fans would always choose to watch their own team in the Grey Cup, of course — that much is understandable. But if your favourite team fails to make it to the Cup, what could be better than watching our country’s two best teams play for a championship?

4. The divisions have an uneven number of teams

Having five teams in the West Division and only four in the East is simply unfair. Finishing with a home playoff date is a lot tougher when you need to beat out three teams instead of only two, something that forces Western teams to compete at a higher level than its Eastern counterpart.

If and when the CFL introduces a tenth team (which, sadly, is a pipe dream at this point), having two five-team divisions makes a lot of sense for the league. Until then, the CFL should do away with its current divisional structure in favour of a single-division league.

5. Western dominance

The West Division has been the CFL’s superior division for well over a decade. The West has a 313-212 record (.596) versus the East since 2002 and has won 12 of the past 18 Grey Cups.

After a disappointing 18-22 record against the East last season (2015 was just the second year since 2002 that saw the East best the West), the West has quickly reestablished its dominance in 2016, recording a 19-9-1 record against the East thus far this season.

Eastern CFL fans may not like hearing it, but we need to face facts: the West Division has dominated its Eastern counterpart for well over a decade. In the interest of parity, equity, fairness, revenue appropriation, and entertainment, it is time for the CFL to eliminate its East-West divisional structure.

John Hodge

John Hodge

John Hodge is a lifelong follower of the CFL who has been writing about the league since 2014. He is a two-time finalist of the Jon Gott lookalike contest.
John Hodge
John Hodge
About John Hodge (384 Articles)
John Hodge is a lifelong follower of the CFL who has been writing about the league since 2014. He is a two-time finalist of the Jon Gott lookalike contest.

24 Comments on Five reasons why the CFL needs to scrap the divisions

  1. Item #3 is incorrect (in my opinion).
    The Grey Cup should ALWAYS be East vs. West.
    That’s where a great deal of the fun and entertainment is !

    • Tim Crowley // October 5, 2016 at 1:11 pm //

      I live in the lower 48 and am a huge fan. I enjoy the Grey Cup more than the superbowl. I like things the way they are. Would like to see even number of teams though.

  2. I agree with many of your comments however, you neglect the fact that the C in CFL is ‘Canadian.’
    If you have an Edmonton versus Calgary year after year, the rest of the country would tune out; similar to no Canadian teams remaining in the Stanley Cup, viewership drops by half. A West vs East format ensures that the whole country remains engaged.

  3. John: I agree 100 percent. You have made an excellent case. The “east-west Grey Cup rivalry” factor was put to rest when Winnipeg ended up in the East because of the even greater imbalance in the number of teams at the time. That’s when the single division concept should have been implemented.

  4. How about getting Orridge off his butt and put the 55th team in the East we all know there is enough talent not on any team atm

  5. You’re full of shit. Leave the writing to the professionals. Go back to whatever hole you crawled out of.

    • Dengar9256 // October 5, 2016 at 9:09 pm //

      That’s an unecessary and offensive comment. The CFL thrives on grassroots coverage. John is a great writer, podcaster, -and radio guest. He and his brother are integral to the fabric of the Bombers and the CFL. I’ve met him at home games and he’s a nice guy too. This is a professional website and he’s on it. He’s much better than many “professional” writers. Go read somewhere else instead of being abusive.

  6. I say keep it the way it is and expand the east by one more team.

  7. This discussion comes up every time one conference or the other has a better season. The introduction of the crossover a couple of decades ago has, for the most part, addressed the “unfairness” argument and goes a long way to ensuring the best six teams make the playoffs and have a shot at the big prize every year. East versus west ensures that everybody has some sort of rooting interest in the final game (similar to AFC versus NFC, or NL versus AL). The Grey Cup is something you want to attract the casual observer to as well as the core fan base; everyone nation-wide can find a rooting interest in an east-versus-west game much more so than a “regional” Grey Cup featuring (for example) two Alberta teams, or Ottawa vs Toronto.

  8. You’d think that “Coaches Calling Penalties Masquerading as ‘Challenges'” would have taught EVERYBODY a lesson: STOP changing the CFL just to give the rules committee SOMETHING to mess with.

    This WHOLE season needs a GIANT asterisk* next to it in the stats book
    *Season under dispute due to mindless “coaches challenges” rule.
    When will they EVER learn?

  9. klondikechi // October 5, 2016 at 10:53 am //

    # 1 reason to not scrap divisions… the collapse of the league. zero interest in the east if there’s no chance of the playoffs by say labour day.

  10. Listen…THIS is Canada
    You know…where most of the EAST gets transfer payments, cause you guys in the west have all the resources…all the greasy ones…anyhoo

    Oh sure…it pisses you off. Like Anthony Calvillo and the Alouettes rolled into town, after a season of beating up on weaker East Division teams all season, and in the East Final. Oh sure…the Alouettes were just a sickly BEAST from the anemic EAST.

    Oh Sure again…Calvillo LOST 5 of eight of those chances (sucks for us). BUT that plucky little Eastern upstart kept coming back. ONE shot at winning it all. You NEVER know.

    THIS unbalance between the Divisions…it’s like those GREASY transfer payments and YES…it’s like EVERY team East of Winnipeg is on Welfare.

    But at least ONCE a year, we get off our lazy Eastern BUTTS and get riled up at the “ludicrous notion” that we can kick some Western butts. That’s a motivation that can keep a COUNTRY together. How do you know it hasn’t? brrrrr….chilling

    It may be a “rubber tree plant”…but what makes you think the East, Can’t, move a …??

    Go Als Go

    • There is no imbalance the west wins more games because of their nasty weather:the violent thunderstorms,the high altitude,and the frigid cold. This is an unfair advantage that is not factored in,nor can it be corrected.

  11. Keep the divisions.Make the final in each division the best out of three games to ensure the best team goes to the CUP.Skip the SEM-FINAL because this method allows to much to chance,all these sudden death games may allow an inferior team to get lucky.I have heard from old time football players that sometimes the best team does not make it to the CUP ( from a division ), and sometimes that same team may be the be the elite team in the country.

  12. Terry Baxter // October 5, 2016 at 11:16 am //

    Lmao. Another genius with a great idea to fix the CFL. Scrap the divisions???? Maybe you should do a bit of reading re the history of the grey cup. please stop writing on this site or at a minimum know what you are talking about before writing an ‘article’

    • Dengar9256 // October 5, 2016 at 9:14 pm //

      Maybe you should remember that football used to have no forward pass. Good thing we changed. Things change. It’s good to be open to new ideas even if you don’t agree. And This argument about scrapping divisions has taken place on TSN and John has a much more articulate argument than I’ve ever seen. You may disagree but no need to be rude about it and make personal attacks.

  13. Blue and Golden Delicious // October 5, 2016 at 12:18 pm //

    Huge CFL fan and 100% agree with scrapping the divisions.

  14. It’s a topic of discussion, which last time I checked is what sites like this are for. To come on here and berate the writer for starting the discussion is weak. I’m not in favour of scrapping the divisions, I’m a traditionalist. But that doesn’t mean talking about should result in someone being lambasted for some well thought out and rational reasons for suggesting it. Grow up keyboard warriors.

  15. Will never happen…period.
    It is what makes the CFL the CFL.

  16. I wish it weren’t so, but sadly the CFL head office probably sees 1 and 5 on your list as reasons to keep the divisions.
    The current arrangement gives Toronto a greater chance at a home playoff game and extra revenue. How convenient! It’s equalization payments without the ugly label.
    And given the ongoing Western dominance, I think the league shudders at the idea of a consistently all-Western Grey cup. The East-West disparity is an elephant in the room which, if the divisions were removed, would become all too apparent. I agree with you that a 2015 Calgary-Edmonton Grey Cup would’ve been more entertaining nation-wide, but sadly it doesn’t seem like the league has faith in their fans to watch *good* football regardless of who’s playing. Maybe a highly watched 2016 Calgary-Edmonton Grey Cup is what’s needed to convince them?

  17. Marc Lebut // October 5, 2016 at 5:32 pm //

    I don’t agree with John’s view.

    In CFL, if you want to keep some kind of a league, you need divisions. CFL support isn’t in the East what it is in the West. Like or not, Argos are hardly getting support in Toronto and 4 years of mediocrity is beginning to heal on the fan base in Montréal. What does keep those markets somewhat alive? Playoff hopes.

    If your team struggles too long to get up in the standings with hardly any playoff hope, fan base can get to not much, eventually not enough. Deletion of divisions may be a highway to a 6 teams league, should Toronto, Montréal and one of Ottawa or BC fail to reach the playoffs too long. The entertainement buck is widely spread in those markets and championship hopeless teams may not get enough share of it to survive.

    I think the actual formula of division keeps the fans buying tickets on the long run. Maybe the playoff revenue sharing should be revisited a bit, but supression of the division can be very costly.

    To be fair with John, I’ll address his points.

    1. There nothing unfair regarding the playoffs revenue sharing since the playoffs rules put it so that it raises the chances to have some kind of equity between all teams to get a share of the playoffs revenues. It’s not an East vs West matter. It’s rather how to give all teams more chances to access those revenues. It’s business, not politics.

    2. It’s a non argument. Saying most games are intra-divisional anyway has no relevancy once you merge all teams in one division. Maybe most games are intra-divisional partly because there are more intra-division games, which have more impact on the standings where there are divisions instead of one. There would be no “intra-division” games in a no divisions league. Thence, this conclusion may reveal being false, and the question would be back to what are the chances more team can access to those playoffs revenues.

    3. Win the day. Why would the Grey Cup should feature the 2 best teams? Which are the 2 best teams? You may have a team having a 10-1 record finishing with a 12-6 record with 4 straight losses ending 1st to meet a 4-7 team that managed to finish 3rd with a 10-8 record ending with 4 consecutive wins. Maybe, just maybe, in the end of the season, that 10-8 team is better than the 12-6 and 11-7 teams.

    How many times a team would have the had a straight Grey Cup berth in early October, which would have killed any interest in the balance of the season? That would hit hard on selling tickets.

    4. It’s not you have to beat 2 or 3 teams to get in the playoffs. It’s you have to pile enough Ws to stand in the division’s first 2 ranks or beat the other division’s 3rd ranked team. You don’t access the playoffs looking at the rankings from bottom to top but from top to bottom. All teams in both division play the same number of games, and the crossover rule allows a chance to see an extra-divisional team get in the playoffs should the divisional 3rde team fail to manage to even that team. I think this formula is better for all teams.

    5. So if I get it correctly, the recent western dominance should be better rewarded? Well, in the last 20 years, the West won 12 Grey Cups and the East had 8. Not exactly so much dominant in Grey Cup contests. Another way to see this argument is “since West is dominant, it should be made so that the East would remain in the bottoms of the league”. Ok. You do that. What will happen to the TV rankings if you lose teams in Montréal and Toronto? What markeet do you try to sell and how much will it be worth? What are the other 7 teams stadium/merchandising revenues for the league compared to the 75 million TV deal? Then again, it comes to have the better balance between all teams to access to playoffs revenues.

    All in all, your proposition would be better for the western teams actually, but not for the league itself. Thence, it could be disastrous for the whole Canadian football.

  18. I’ve always thought a good way to solve this discrepancy but still keep the division intact is to automatically award the top two spots to the division winners… so if the playoffs started today (yes I know that’s a stupid and overused concept but just for reference) the playoff standings would be:

    1) Calgary
    2) Ottawa
    3) BC
    4) Winnipeg
    5) Edmonton
    6) Hamilton

    Calgary and Ottawa get byes, Calgary plays the winner of Winnipeg v Edmonton and Ottawa plays the winner of BC v Hamilton. This keeps the east alive until at least the division finals and gives the opportunity for the 2 best teams to play in the finals whether that be Calgary v BC Or Edmonton v Hamilton.

  19. I agree with most of that John except the 10 team CFL point.
    If somehow/someday the CFL got to 10 teams it makes even less sense to have two divisions as it would make more sense IMHO with an 18 game schedule to have every team play a home and home, meaning divisions would mean jack/squat in terms of the season. it’s not the NBA/NHL/NFL where schedules are weighted for division and conference play, it’s like Aussie Football(one team ladder) where everything is balanced.

    Also on revenue sharing, Even if playoff revenue is all split up equally, it still doesn’t make sense as the Bombers on a low attendance day draw more then the capacity of any Eastern teams stadium, Same goes for the Stamps, Riders and Esks. Only the Lions are averaging under 26K in the West.
    So from a $$, it makes more sense to play a home game in Edmonton and draw 30K+ then in Toronto in front of maybe 20K, unless the Eastern teams fans are paying over 50% extra for tickets and concessions but going by team websites ticket prices are closer.

    As for the East Suffering because they wouldn’t be as good, it would be more a situation of learn to swim, the Eastern teams would need to up their game and compete with the West which increases the competitive balance of the league, better games would make the league better.
    I don’t see how the Als playing in the Grey cup 8 times over 10 years because the East was weak made the league better, do fans in Ontario care more if Montreal makes the playoffs then the Riders or Lions or vice versa, do fans on Montreal care if Ti-cats make it or Argos?

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