CFL’s divisional structure kills potential playoff race

One of the main arguments people often make in favour of the CFL’s divisional structure is its prolongation of playoff drama. Splitting the league’s teams into two division allows for clubs to remain in the playoff hunt for longer, particularly in the event that one division is stronger than the other.

Looking at this year’s standings, this sentiment couldn’t be farther from the truth.

West Division Standings

Team Record Points
Calgary Stampeders 13-1-1 27
Winnipeg Blue Bombers 11-4 22
Edmonton Eskimos 9-6 18
Saskatchewan Roughriders 8-7 16
B.C. Lions 6-9 12

There may be three weeks remaining on the regular season schedule, but the West Division is essentially settled. Calgary will lock-up first place with a win or Winnipeg loss, Winnipeg will lock-up second place with a win or Edmonton loss, and B.C. will be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss or Saskatchewan win.

The only real race that remains in the West is the battle for third place between Edmonton and Saskatchewan. Ironically, it would be in the best interest of both teams to finish fourth. The West’s fourth-place team will earn the crossover spot, earning them a playoff spot in the East Division. Neither team would admit it publicly, but the road through Ottawa and Toronto is significantly more appealing than the path through Winnipeg and Calgary.

East Division Standings

Ottawa Redblacks 7-9-1 15
Toronto Argonauts 7-9 14
Hamilton Tiger-Cats 4-11 8
Montreal Alouettes 3-12 6

Believe it or not, the race in the East is even less interesting. Hamilton and Montreal have both been eliminated from playoff contention, leaving two sub-.500 teams in Toronto and Ottawa to compete for the right to host the East Final. Ottawa has just one game remaining (vs. Hamilton), while Toronto has two (vs. Winnipeg, at B.C.).

With three weeks of virtually meaningless football ahead of us, it’s worth considering what the playoff race might look like if the CFL had just one division. The answer? Pretty darn interesting.

Divisionless Standings

Team Record Points
Calgary Stampeders 13-1-1 27
Winnipeg Blue Bombers 11-4 22
Edmonton Eskimos 9-6 18
Saskatchewan Roughriders 8-7 16
Ottawa Redblacks 7-9-1 15
Toronto Argonauts 7-9 14
B.C. Lions 6-9 12
Hamilton Tiger-Cats 4-11 8
Montreal Alouettes 3-12 6

Calgary and Winnipeg have the top two spots virtually locked up, while Hamilton and Montreal remain eliminated in this hypothetical, one-division CFL. Aside from that, the race is on.

Edmonton and Saskatchewan would be on pace to earn home playoff games, though Ottawa, Toronto, and B.C. would be within striking distance of a top-four finish. Just six points separate these five clubs, making for some high-quality entertainment through the end of the season. The three-point gap separating B.C., Toronto, and Ottawa would be particularly interesting — instead of the Argos and Redblacks each being handed home playoff games while the Lions flounder, the three clubs would be in a dead-heat to earn the league’s final two playoff seeds.

Consider the implications of Toronto and B.C.’s match-up in week twenty. In today’s two-division CFL, the clubs’ game on November 4 will likely be meaningless for both teams. In a one-division league, the game would potentially decide which team earns the CFL’s final playoff spot.

There are legitimate arguments to be made in favour of the CFL’s current two-division format. The assertion that it intensifies the push for the playoffs isn’t one of them.

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 (385 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.

59 Comments on CFL’s divisional structure kills potential playoff race

  1. John. OK, so you are probably right about this year. On the other hand had Hamilton defeated Calgary the playoff race in the east would remain relevant until the last game was played. Whereas in a one division structure, more than half of your market would have stopped watching football three weeks ago. If you’re may be an exception but generally speaking the to division format works very well to keep a maximum number of fans interested throughout the season.

    • Thank you Amicus for making my point. No east teams in the race less in the stands and much less viewing the remainder of the games on TSN. An all western Cup will kill the league. How about we don’t have *:30pm pacific start times! It’s no wonder BC has such a great home record against eastern teams over the years. Average start is 10:15 eastern. Get better scheduling to make games fair.

      • You do realize that there is a time change Western Teams face going East as well right? Having traveled back and forth many many times I always found the time change going east hardest to adapt to. By the way how do you think the Lions like the 1pm afternoon games out east?

        • BC did not play any 1:00pm EST games. One was at 3:30pm EST, the rest at 7:00pm or later.

          Great point, though.

        • Lol Ziggy how would a 10am game effect the team? Its not at 11:45 at night. Not only is that unfair to the teams but the fans in Hamilton. TSN cant complain about tv ratings for a game when half the country is in bed. Eastern teams play early games all the time. I live in BC and watch the Cars play 1pm east games alot. Besides BC never had a 1pm eastern start this season.

  2. Bill deHoog // October 15, 2017 at 3:04 pm //

    I know that fans in the west are pushing this format. Even though I am a Redblack supporter, I still like the East/West format.I understand people are upset with how the East played out this year expecially at the beginning of the season. Look at the game Hamilton gave Calgary this past weekend!
    Potential solution to the cross over rule which I don’t like:
    Last place teams are out
    If the 4th place team in West is better that the 3rd in the East, have a 1 game playoff between 3 and 4 (ie wild card game)
    Whoever crosses over this year will have their hands full with either Toronto or Ottawa…look at last year for example.
    In time the East will catch up
    Every league (including NFL,NHL) have weaker divisions

    • No doubt you like it your team has got an undeserved free pass every year you’ve been back while teams with better records have to go on the road

      • Your team wont have a league to play in if there is no Toronto or Montreal franchises. You Stamps fans are all alike. Teams go in swings right now the Stamps are up, Hamilton should have beat the at 4-10. Ottawa still beat your Stumps in last years Cup. One division will kill the league and a TV contract period.

        • Absolutely agree with you re “team swings”. Someone should remind our “Stamps” friend that his Stumps failed to win even ONE PO game back in the 1980’s. With declining attendance and financial woes they had to erect Kool-Aid stands around McMahon in order to raise money for their “Save the Stumps” campaign. They even pulled Billy Graham in there to try to incite some divine intervention. It’s comical how some can chirp when things are going well but you couldn’t even find them with a GPS when things go south – and one day the Stumps will indeed go south.

          • dangnabbit // October 15, 2017 at 10:49 pm //

            Wasn’t basically everybody apart from the Eskimos hurting in the 1980s? Montreal saw both the Als (1982) and the Concordes (1987) fold. The Saskatchewan Roughriders set a CFL record 11-year playoff drought and were 1.6 million dollars in debt. At the end of the decade, the Ottawa Rough Riders’ value had declined to the point the franchise was sold for a single dollar.

          • @dangnabbit – I believe you are correct. The Esks were too busy winning GC’s to be hurting – everyone else seemed to have problems of their own. Think the Calgary franchise though was the most serious situation and on the brink of extinction. These Stump fans who constantly chirp were probably in their diapers back then and don’t have a clue. A lesson in humility wouldn’t be a bad idea – especially when the reality is that if Wally didn’t come along and save their ass their wouldn’t be no chirping because their wouldn’t be a team.

          • Well Edmonton bought those Grey Cups. Way different…

      • Underserved free pass?
        Give it a rest. Ya lost!

  3. A 2 division with the winner each getting the bye and then seeding the rest of the league would still keep the division races and allow for longer and more playoff situations. One division takes an element of one playoff race totally out of the picture, namely the battle for first in the East.

    IF you truly are looking for more playoff intrigue, then this would be better than the single division. Look at the NFL where the division winners are seeded 1-4 with the next 2 in the conference getting 5 and 6. Just last year it was #4 Houston, 9-7, hosting #5 Oakland,12-4, and we dont hear the incessant whining that comes from those that watch the CFL.

    • Interesting idea, Wes. I firmly believe we need two divisions, but am not opposed to tinkering with the playoff format. I also think we should be asking why the west has been so good for so long. Is it scouting, coaching, better team bonding? Who knows? The eastern teams need to take a long, hard look at themselves.

  4. Eddiefelson // October 15, 2017 at 3:21 pm //

    I tell you what…you(or one of the other wanna be reporters) write the same damn article 3 times a year…waste your time… waste our time…and you just lose more and more respect.

    The answer is no…this stupid idea will kill the league period…nobody outside of alberta want to see a calgary edmonton grey cup….NOBODY!

    Why not save us all time, and just write an article that says; us wanna bee reporters want less respect…and we can say ok…
    Saves time !

  5. Phil norman ( LPT ) // October 15, 2017 at 3:49 pm //

    Fans of eastern division teams are always crying for a divisional change why? Because as the stats and history shows the western division all most always out performs the eastern division. It’s not the divisions that are a problem it’s the caliber of eastern teams, considerably weaker than the west. When teams with a sub 500 season can be a 1st place team in the east and clinch a playoff spot. How is the west division to blame ?

  6. You make the league one division and you can kiss it goodbye! Had Hamilton won this article wouldn’t have been written but because they have lets look at the problem. One division means possibly this season one east team would be fighting for a playoff spot. Now Toronto and Montreal can’t get fans in the stands now, imagine they were out of the playoffs by Labour Day? Also lets look at late Western start times that have effected East teams for years. Both Hamilton (11:45pm Eastern) and Ottawa (10:15 eastern) in BC this year, both came away winners but that is unusual if you look back at BC’s home history against the East. Enough with the one division crap. I live in BC and I love this league but doing that would put another nail in the coffin.

  7. This has every to do with money the reason the west teams are better is because they generate far more revenue which leads to bigger football ops budgets which lead to better scouting and managing of teams the current format helps at least 2 east teams break even last year Ottawa sold out all there games hosted the East Final and won the Grey Cup and still we’re in the red if you go to one division that would be a death blow to the East

  8. Leo Lewis // October 15, 2017 at 4:29 pm //

    Before changing the playoff format, the CFL should change the regular season schedule. Teams should play more games within their division. This change would help to even out the won lost records between the divisions and may even help increase attendance and TV ratings. We need more Edmonton – Calgary, Winnipeg – Saskatchewan, Toronto – Hamilton, Montreal – Ottawa games, not fewer.

    • dangnabbit // October 15, 2017 at 10:57 pm //

      At present, there are two games for each cross-divisional pairing (one home, one away), and all remaining games are within the division. If you drop that to one game (e.g. Ottawa plays each Western opponent either at home or away, but not both for the same team in the same year) Ottawa would play two East division opponents *four* times in a single season and the other one *five*. That’s ridiculous and I’m confident the league would never implement your suggestion.

      • Nowhere in my post did I suggest that teams play only one game against each team in the other division. I only suggested that there be more games within the division. I’m confident that you really should read more carefully before you call anything ridiculous.

        As a starting point, the schedule should be changed so that the pre-season games be played against non division opponents (in effect, taking the current schedule and swapping two preseason games against divisional opponents with two regular season games against non divisional opponents).

        Currently in the regular season, each Eastern team plays 8 games vs the East and 10 vs the West, and each Western team plays 10 games vs the West and 8 games vs the East. Under my proposal, the Eastern teams would play 10 games vs the East and 8 games vs the West, and each Western team would play 12 games vs the West and 6 games vs the East. Each team would still face every team at least twice (counting the pre-season).

        This is not a radical change that will solve all of the problems between the divisions. But it is certainly better than the current situation and is a good first step.

  9. John McGurran // October 15, 2017 at 4:30 pm //

    Changing CFL structure is like changing health care in Canada. Probably should but never willl happen. I just want more teams and more games.

  10. The Iceman // October 15, 2017 at 4:38 pm //

    The best team doesn’t always win a game. Calgary was the better team in the Grey Cup last season and lost. Change it back to 3 teams in the east do battle and 3 teams in the west. Bottom line I would rather watch east vs east and west vs west playoff battles and east vs west Grey Cup.

    • Eddiefelson // October 15, 2017 at 6:04 pm //

      Thats a matter of debate. I despise the redblacks- but they were the better team for the majority of the game.
      I was rooting for calgary- but watched as bo went for big play after big play…and wasnt connecting. It was kind of comical actually.
      Long story short- the 2nd worst team in the east took calgary to the last play 2 days ago- proving again that anyone can beat anyone.
      Keep the divisions and earn the cup by being the best team on game day.

  11. The current format works and provides representation for our Canadian fans. What would be great is a 10th team out of the east, Quebec City and Moncton. Drive ratings and interest with the 2nd and 3td place team in each division play a home and home series with the highest point differential winning, would make for some high scoring games.

  12. I’d actually like to see the top 7 make the playoffs with the top seed getting a bye for getting first overall. Based on record, then seed 2 vs 7, 3 vs 6 and 4 vs 5. Then add a 10th team one day soon!

  13. Paul Bomber // October 15, 2017 at 5:33 pm //

    If it’s all about rewarding performance, an 8 or 9 team league doesn’t need divisions. But with Toronto and Montreal already struggling to put bums in the seats, I humbly suggest there is a bigger picture here.

    • Leo Lewis // October 15, 2017 at 5:40 pm //

      Agreed. However, with the exception of Saskatchewan, all of the CFL teams are having attendance issues. If Winnipeg and Edmonton are drawing crowds of only approximately 26,000, there are storm clouds on the horizon for the CFL.

  14. solara2000 // October 15, 2017 at 5:50 pm //

    The issue isn’t the Divisional set-up, rather the issue is the lousy, erratic scheduling. I understand 60-70 game schedules (NHL, NBA – count on one hand how many times the Canadiens AND Leafs don’t play on a Saturday night) will have you playing multiple nights, but when you only have 18 games to fit in over 19 weeks (1st week of July thru end of first week of Nov), lets keep the game day (night) of the week as consistent as possible.

    Congrats to Bill de Hoog and Wes thinking outside the box.

  15. Dany Bremner // October 15, 2017 at 6:28 pm //

    Maybe the East Coast should get a team…

  16. I, for one have never liked the crossover. Many will disagree but Hamilton and Montreal are going to rupture losses now. People forget that CFL teams can easily get into trouble. You still need crowds to appear. Even the potential that Calgary could play Edmonton in the Grey Cup should have indicated what a bad idea it was and is. I’m a Tiger-Cat fan. Best I try how much interest can I have with the NHL, MLB Play-offs and the NFL?

  17. My feelings are in a 9 team league with 6 teams making the playoffs, the right to host a home playoff game should be rewarded to the teams that earned it vias wins. After all a playoff appearance and a right to host a playoff game is a reward for your play throughout the season. It is bush league when a below 500 team gets to host a playoff game before teams with better records do.

  18. It’s no different than the NHL or NFL. The best 2 teams don’t necessarily play in the Super Bowl because one of the NFC or AFC aren’t always as strong each year. Goes all the way back to Namath & the NY Jets upset. A lot of people thought they didn’t deserve to be there. Look at the great Flames & Oilers teams of the 80’s, winning 6 of 7 cups but one always eliminating the other in the 1st round. Same goes for baseball, World Cup soccer where someone in the Group of Death for that particular year goes out early. Bottom line is EVERYBODY knows, regardless of your record, you have a 1 game shot in most of these competitions. The team that wins THAT game is the champion. You can look at it any way you want, John, but if you finish 5th in the West now, do you deserve to be gunning for the Cup anymore than a team from the East? How many times has the 5th place team in the West been a .500 club? There’s already 4 in, does BC deserve to be in this year with the top clubs anymore than Argos or Ottawa? There’s not much to choose between them, record wise, & I would guess that the last place club in the West most years may be better than the bottom 2 in the East but we’re probably splitting hairs on whether they’re better than either of the top 2 in the East. If you want to sell the argument to me, look at the standings from 1996 when the crossover went in to now & tell me how often 5 teams from the West would qualify – in other words, how often did the East have the 3 worst records.

  19. The Cat’s beat Winnipeg rather decisively 2 weeks ago and should’ve beat Calgary. The west is always ahead early but by the end of the year the east has always caught up.

  20. Southside Dave // October 15, 2017 at 9:48 pm //

    Things happen in cycles. 3-4 yrs from now the East will be stronger than the West & people will complain about THAT! And even though Toronto & Ottawa are sub .500, I believe they would play a West team a hard in the Grey Cup, (and maybe even win it). Just sit back (and try to) enjoy the playoffs.

  21. RJ Johnson Jr // October 15, 2017 at 11:16 pm //

    The way that the fans from the eastern teams continue to NOT support their team, we should switch to a one division format ASAP, because soon teams like Montreal will be gone, again.

  22. dangnabbit // October 15, 2017 at 11:19 pm //

    The advantage is scheduling. Since you know which teams will be competing against one another for playoff spots well in advance of the season, you can arrange the schedule so that they play one another more frequently as the season goes on.

    To illustrate this: there’s twelve games left in the season, of which only three feature a West team against an East team. Compare that to the *first* twelve games of the season, of which seven – more than twice as many – featured a West team against an East team. That didn’t happen by accident or by luck; the league deliberately arranged the schedule to have both teams fighting for the same spot. Saturday’s Edmonton-BC match will be very important, especially if Calgary keeps BC’s playoff hopes alive on Friday. Week 20’s Edmonton-Saskatchewan game is also likely to determine who gets the crossover spot.

  23. You are totally wrong.

  24. shawn o'connor // October 16, 2017 at 12:26 am //

    THE CFL is over 100 yrs old and very deep in tradition, if they go to a one division for playoffs , the league will die,this year the east is weak and the west is strong, its been the reverse and it will change , i agree with the fellah above , the schedule needs a revamp before looking at changing anything else oh and get rid of the crossover since 1996 its been used 3 times and unsuccessful at that and lastly the Grey Cup has been an East vs West Championship and it should remain that way

  25. If BC had a better record than Toronto and Ottawa, this article WITHOUT A DOUBT would focus on the injustice of a team being eliminated while teams with worse records move on. That would be cited as evidence that the divisional structure is broken.

    As things stand, the likely outcome is that the six playoff spots will be taken by the six teams with the best records. So now the focus must be on the lesser injustice of misaligned home dates and byes.

    If you want to be Grey Cup Champion, you have to beat all your opponents in the post-season, home or away. If you cannot do that, you are not the best team that year. Justice served.

  26. Hey John, this… “With three weeks of virtually meaningless football ahead of us…” tells me you obviously have never played football, or, in fact, don’t know much about it at all – but here you are. I can’t imagine a more ridiculous comment. You’re now on the never-read list.

  27. Bombers have been moved to the East on 2 separate occasions and gone to the Grey Cup 7 times, basically creating an all West Grey Cup. How does this not work again?
    1988 – Winnipeg / BC (Lansdown Park – 50,604)
    1990 – Winnipeg / Edmonton (BC Place – 46,968)
    1992 – Winnipeg / Calgary (SkyDome – 45,863)
    1993 – Winnipeg / Edmonton (McMahon Stadium – 50,035)
    2001 – Winnipeg / Calgary (Olympic Stadium – 65,255)
    2007 – Winnipeg / Saskatchewan (Rogers Center – 52,230)
    2001 – Winnipeg / BC (BC Place – 54,313)

    • CFLs Best since 1990 // October 16, 2017 at 12:54 pm //

      Nice one, Dwayne! Relevant data… the league DIDN’T fold when this happened 7 times before…

      • Northsider // October 16, 2017 at 3:06 pm //

        They were an Eastern team at the time of these appearances so therefore East vs West Grey Cup, geographics had nothing to do with your so called all western Grey Cup

  28. Dwayne I agree move Winnipeg to the East division. You havent made apoint because there were still 2 divisions and no crossover. We said a one division league would die.

  29. Actually I did make my point that on 7 occasions there have been Grey Cup games involving Western teams (fyi Winnipeg has always been considered a western team even though they were relocated temporarily to the east). You could also consider Winnipeg to be a “cross-over” team during each of those years as well.

    • Winnipeg is about as central as it gets though. Do you think the same results would take place, over time, if the Grey Cup was Edmonton/BC?

      I’m sure people would show up for it, because it’s still a party, but I’m not as convinced that interest and viewership would be all that great from the opposite end of the country.

  30. Dwayne your comment isn’t relevant because there were still two divisions what is being discussed is a one division league. And you can fight that Winnipeg is west all you want you were still part of the eastern division. No one wants to see a BC vs Calgary Cup. TSN would have few eastern viewer and I live in BC and I certainly wouldn’t want to see it.

  31. So then by the logic being used that no one in the East would watch a Calgary vs BC Grey Cup the CFL should stop the crossover as it has the potential for this year to have an all West Grey Cup given that Edmonton or Saskatchewn could be considered the favorites to come out of the East (as a result of the crossover) and play Calgary or Winnipeg in the Grey Cup. The flip side to this is there is a potential down the road for a Toronto vs Montreal Grey Cup (2 largest TV markets). And the whole comparing 1 vs 2 divisions to my earlier points is nonsense. What is your point?

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