Why the CFL wants to move up its schedule (& 4 other Grey Cup thoughts)

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.

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.

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.

Oops.

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.

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.

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.
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John Hodge
About John Hodge (295 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.

43 Comments on Why the CFL wants to move up its schedule (& 4 other Grey Cup thoughts)

  1. Less sad horsie // November 28, 2017 at 4:49 pm //

    Hey John. Far be it for you to judge what McDaniel or any other member of the stamps said or did. Last time I looked the 28-6-2 Dave Dickensen wasn’t looking at your talents as either a player or manager as the solution to our playoff woes moving forward. Perhaps your efforts on that play would have resulted in a TD saving tackle?

    • Lancaster/Reed // November 28, 2017 at 9:10 pm //

      Wow donkey, so much nonsense and drivel coming out of you today on so many posts. . I suspect you were drooling so much while typing it you are now dehydrated.
      First off, I would bet you about the riders and the cap, but everybody knows your integrity is nil, and you would never honour the bet.
      Now as far as dysfunction and team unity, let me teach you something.
      Sports teams can be like family. Now , since a psychopathic narcissist like yourself could never fit in with, or even understand your own family dynamic, i will break it down for you. A close knit team like the riders are like family. When adversity happens, or a member screws up, they rally around each other, and support each other. Do families fight? Of course they do. Physical fight? Yes, especially if there was a physical contest among them that led to the argument. Emotions still happen in the family dynamic. What a close knit group will not do is publically blame or shame each other. After the rider fracas, neither player involved pubically blamed each other for the altercation. It was kept all inhouse, as a family would deal with it.
      Now look at calgary. Mcdaniel completely embarrases and demeans jorden by publicly blaming him for the loss. All the sports analysts were commenting on how that is just completely wrong, and how it points to major issues in the clubhouse. Mitchell basically did the same thing last year after the stamps lost the grey cup to otttawa. He publicly questioned the decision making of dickinson and the other coaches.
      Like i said donkey. DYSFUNCTIONAL.

      • Less sad horsie // November 28, 2017 at 9:56 pm //

        WRONG Lancaster Reed… as usual
        Dysfunctional teams don’t win with the regularity that Calgary does. Dysfunctional doesn’t describe a team that is 28-6-2 over the last 2 regular season or a team that’s played in and almost won the last 2 Grey Cups.
        You want to take about family? How many riders are still in Regina? Chris Jones lives out of a hotel room during the season. These are guys that get as far away as they can once the season ends. How is this family? That’s guys coming to Regina every summer to collect a pay check and free rides on private jets.
        Bo, Huff,DD ,etc etc etc are all settling into their off season lives. In the homes in Calgary.

        • Lancaster/Reed // November 28, 2017 at 10:10 pm //

          Wrong donkey. Dysfunctional teams may win regular season games but they dont win the big game when the pressure is on. They fold and then blame each other for the loss. The buck always stops with the other guy. Mitchell was just being interviewed and he also publicly said kamar screwed up. At least ball tired to be a team guy and instead of piling on kamar, he said, nah, we’re family.
          And I mean, cmon, you are a dysfunctional human being and you blame the riders for some of the stampeders playoff woes this past decade. Its not the stampeders fault they lost all those playoff games to the riders, the riders are to blame. Right?

        • Lancaster/Reed // November 28, 2017 at 10:36 pm //

          So donkey, according to you, you can only be family if you live in the same city, huh? That will be a disappointment for all those people with brothers, sisters, sons and daughters who no longer live in the same city. Maybe you should ask your friends if they agree? Oh thats right, your Machiavellian sadism keeps you from making real , deep social interactions with other people, so no friends to ask. Go upstairs and ask your mom if she agrees.

          • Less sad horsie // November 28, 2017 at 11:28 pm //

            lol you are confusing the literal definition of Family (related through blood like sister and bothers etc etc) with a figurative definition. I suggest that there is no commitment by the rider players to truly commit the the community. This lack of commitment means no bonds are being made to the city or team and players will leave when a better offer is made. That’s not “FAMILY” in the figurative sense.

          • Lancaster/Reed // November 28, 2017 at 11:41 pm //

            The stamps that stay in calgary aren’t helping your teams unity by the looks of things. Kamar tossed under the bus by mcdaniel, dickenson blamed for bad play calling last year by both mitchell and messam. Mitchell just stabbed kamar in the back as well today. With friends like these , who needs enemies.

    • Lancaster/Reed // November 28, 2017 at 9:57 pm //

      Hey Donkey Far be it for you to judge what Jones or any other member of the riders said or did. Last time I looked Chris Jones wasn’t looking at your talents as either a player or manager as the solution to our playoff woes moving forward.
      One big difference between John and you donkey, as a sports journalist, John gets paid to give his opinion on sports issues. You are just a troll.

  2. Horsie, John Hodge wasn’t hired or paid to try and stop that play. McDaniel was! ‘Nuff Said!!!

  3. Finally, we have a commissioner considering a scheduled release a month earlier for 2018. I’ve been calling that spade for a considerable time. Even a trial period of two weeks earlier for 2018 would be nice. And I’ve said to those that say starting the season earlier would interfere with the NHL playoffs that the NFL season also conflicts with the CFL. And tradition? What tradition? American expansion in the 1990’s? Change of overtime from two five-minute halves to the current overtime the league adopted? Is that tradition? Love the idea from Randy Ambrosie.

    • solara2000 // November 28, 2017 at 8:31 pm //

      The issue of competing with the NHL playoffs is somewhat of a red herring. I agree if a Canadian club makes it to the final round, it will be somewhat problematic but ask Rogers about their ratings when the semi and the finals are US teams only and doubly so when those US teams are not part of the original six or perhaps the first round of US expansion (Phillie, LA etc). Can’t quite square in my mind that an Arizona vs Nashville or Carolina would keep 24000 or so fans home in nice weather after another winter or surf to the CFL game on the tube.

      • I agree, as soon as fans home teams are eliminated they stop watching NHL playoffs. So its a complete non-issue

  4. Will the revenue gained from the NFL network outweigh the losses from the season ticket holders (and TSN) who are ok missing summer games that are perceived to early season games to go to the cottage/camp but would not be willing to miss meaningful games during the summer. And who might walk away entirely because the season would basically mirror the entire cottage season.

    And then you want to double down and not host playoff games in the east…that will help Toronto and Montreal.

    I stopped reading your rambling quote heavy article after point two because you are obviously out of touch with real fans who go to games.

  5. Marc Lebut // November 28, 2017 at 5:28 pm //

    So many “ifs” in the no divisions plead don’t change the reality. Argos showed exactly why divisions must be maintained. They were 4-7 and ended with momentum ending with a 9-9- record. In the end of the season, the best teams were the Stamps/Esks and the Argos. We had a Grey cup amongs those teams. It shows exactly that the argument based on the assumption that teams with the best record in the end of the season are the best teams in the end of the season is false.

    Crossover is strange enough, no need to get things worse scraping the divisions, even in a 9 (soon 8?) teams league.

  6. I really don’t understand all this one division nonsense.
    If the 2017 was played under this format, in all likelihood we would have watched Cal vs Edm in Ottawa. East West is the best way to insure we all have a team we can back in the Grand ol’ Game.

  7. Change the CFL schedule from what it is – Mr.Ambrosie and you will lose 100,000 more fans

    And I ain’t shitting you ! , leave things alone

    • 7 of us season ticket holders are one group that will not go if it is moved back a month. The Grey Cup in November is where it belongs.

    • How? The kids are still in school in June. Do the cities empty out every weekend even then? If this is the case, maybe a solution would be to start the season in Oct? Go head to head with the NHL and NFL all season long. Play the Grey Cup in February.
      How about a Grey Cup the first Sunday in Nov? Basically just exchanging 3 weeks in June for 3 weeks in Nov. There will still be cold weather and the possiblity of snow.

    • Move the NFL schedule further back a month then. They can play their Pooper Bowl in March for all I care… stop selling out for the almighty dollar. Get rid of the ads on unis and the field – enough of this crap.

  8. You can easily start training camps in early May. Start regular season first weekend of June and play the Grey Cup first or 2nd Sunday of November. In June play most of the games Thursday and Friday nights. Just don’t play any afternoon games in June, July or August, then it’s hard to get fans out when they want to be at the beach or park all day. Plus I find with summer afternoon games fans usually aren’t as vocal. Do a game Thursday night, double header Friday and a Saturday night game. With only 9 teams it shouldn’t be that hard to figure out. In most CFL stadiums the CFL team is the major tenant. The only issue is TV scheduling, because The Toronto Sports Network (TSN) just has to show every Blue Jay game when everyone knows baseball doesn’t really matter till September.

  9. Ticket sales historically drop off in October and November as the weather becomes cooler. A few teams have been petitioning to have the season moved up for this very reason. So financially, the argument to start the season earlier has some merit.

  10. I agree with TJ. Start the season a bit earlier and end by first or second week of November. I think moving back to October is a bit too much. CFL teams make a shit load of money selling clothing for summer, fall, and even winter conditions. I was at the grey cup and every touque, mit, and scarf was sold out. Plus the change of season adds to the game. Running games are more important in cold weather. Ending season before late November would definately help conditions. The other issue is the divisions. I think they should leave that alone. If the team in Halifax becomes a reality then the crossover ends. I like the divisions the way they are. Hats off to TO. As a Redblacks fan I am happy for the Argos and the players, coaches, and owners. Toronto is a great market and I think things will improve. Next up is a new stadium for Calgary. And bring on the Schooners. With ambrosie at the helm I see the CFL trending upwards.

    • Can you imagine the excitement and increased viewers in LA, Dallas, NY, Calgary, BC, and Toronto when the Halifax snoozers are playing on TV or away from home.
      Last thing we need is another anchor to pull.
      Facts can hurt!!!!

  11. horsie don’t be a fool you seen the video he could have made that tackle with some effort if Argos don’t score a touchdown there Calgary would of still won that game
    McDaniel its more your fault then Jordan a least he was trying

  12. Don’t forget who your main customer base is. It’s not the NFL network. Leave the Grey Cup in November Mr. Commissioner

  13. As I recall didn’t Ambrosie already extend next season by adding a 3rd bye week for each team? I love the CFL and could tolerate the regular season starting at the beginning of June but I think that only buys a couple of weeks earlier for Grey Cup. I also think a lot of fans won’t buy it …

  14. I like McDaniel … he is definitely reliable … but since when is he a perennial 1,000 yard receiver?

    He has been at or over 1,000 yards for three of eight years.

  15. Moving the schedule ahead is the worst idea I’ve heard. Maybe they can make more money that way, maybe not. It would certainly end my 22 year run of season tickets though. I have absolutely no interest in a summer football league.

  16. Colour me green // November 29, 2017 at 12:45 am //

    2013 GC in Regina was brutally cold the entire week except for the day of the GC. To play in zregina with little chance of snow you can’t go past 3 week of Oct.
    The best defensive player for Argos was the snow. And how boring to take the talented players and reside them to mediocre due to not being able to run or cut without sliding or falling. The standing are based on summer conditions yet we play the most important game in a blizzard. Makes no sense.
    When the snow flies I watch hockey.
    Finally the hit in attendance during a GC week due to cold weather doesn’t grow the game in the locals they are held. You want kids and families to attend, be warm, have fun and get those kids experiences they willl never forget and fall in love with the league. Sitting for 3 hours frozen is not fun. Trust me in Regina we see that in October. Or dome every stadium.

  17. Football is ‘Gridiron’ , Mr.Ambrosie leave CFL schedule alone
    This is not ‘soccer’ !!!

  18. Moving the CFL season back three weeks is a winning idea for fans who attend the game and do not wish to freeze ,especially children.
    I was in Ottawa Sunday ,that was a mean cold wind .What a great area Ottawa has for a Grey Cup,impressive!! We were at the 96 Grey Cup in the Ivor Wynne snow, children were under dressed and freezing beside us . Our son was in Regina for their last rigid Grey Cup game ,well dressed but freezing conditions ,is that fun? I have always been in favour of moving the schedule to an earlier start ,try it out ,if you like Football in June why not May -October ,fine with me…

  19. Seems like a few people are afraid of a little thing called “weather”. In the past 25 years, there have been a grand total of TWO Grey Cup games played in the snow. Do you hear fans in Green Bay, Boston, Pittsburgh, New York, Chicago, etc complaining about the bitterly cold games from Nov-Feb?

    Another thing to consider is the NFL draft. IIRC, it’s usually in late April to early May. AFTER that is the CFL draft. not really a lot of time to sign rookies and flesh out a team before training camp opens – which would be the START of May.

    As for a one-division League, i completely disagree with your opinion. If there is an all-west GC, I would not watch it. It would have even less interest for me than this year’s (I’m a Tiger-Cats fan). As another poster mentioned, when a Maritimes team enters the League, there would be 5 teams in each Division. Each team in the League would play each other team twice during the season. Hard to come up with a better schedule than that…

  20. Move the season up 2-4 weeks. If the NFL network is willing to compensate the CFL properly then it’s worth it. I’d love to be outside and go to games in sunny June. Leave the playoff format the way it is. It works just fine for everyone

  21. Not sure the timeline works with the NFL draft at the end of April the CFL draft can’t be before the first weekend in May. The CFL has to give at least 2 weeks to sign drafted players. That means May 20th is the earliest camp could start. With two weeks of preseason action and cut-down / practice roster assignments, the CFL would be hard pressed to start before June 9th. That would be only two weeks earlier than last year. Can’t see the CFL doing any better unless they want to significantly impact the quality of player personnel down the road.

  22. Move the league two weeks forward with Grey Cup coming around Remembrance Day — the CFL and the military (including Vets with the Jake Gaudaur trophy) are already good partners. It would also be a big play in the USA as well as around the world wherever Canada has a presence (each embassy could have a big screen party even). Two weeks won’t necessary avoid winter temperatures, although snow might be less. But it would help in the late spring by giving us an alternative to having to watch nothing but NHL and the Jays. Training camps starting around the long weekend in May and the season starting in early June with the exhibition games being played on various college campuses across the country. By mid-June the regular season would start with great weather, new enthusiasm, and a really great tv contract within the USA. Might even help inspire the Maritimes to seriously move on a stadium and a team.

  23. Bottom line is regardless of tradition the CFL must and has to be revenue driven as all the other major pro sports leagues are. Next to getting more fannies in the seats for the games in every city in the CFL, outside revenue such as TV/Internet contracts, advertisement, sponsor revenue of all kinds will make or break the league in the long run. Getting the 10th team in Halifax plus hopefully 2 others in the future would be the icing on the cake.

    • the two others should be London Erie shore with team playing at Mustangs stadium and building one in Woodstock halfway to Waterloo. Quebec city should be a lock. So put QC and Halifax in East. London Erie shore in the west and it is 6 and 6.

  24. This is a good move….time to add that 10th US based team….love the idea of Halifax….but it hasn’t happened yet in 30 long years…..there simply is not the level of interest needed there. 10th US team broadens brand appeal internationally and makes US tv even that much more lucrative.

  25. Mitchell’s ridiculous floating pass led to the game losing fumble.
    To the people who want 2 divisions; winning one game doesn’t justify allowing the disparity to continue. I think the West was 30-9-1 this year against the East. The tie was very early and I know their were a few luckbacks by East teams or else their record would be even worse.
    Solutions for you: keep 2 div, but only grant the div winner access to playoffs or keep it as is and don’t grant home field advantage to Eastern team in this case.

  26. Yes, move up the season. CFL needs more money and not only from American Viewers but Americans crossing the border or vacationing in Canada as game attendees. Keep two divisions for expansion reasons. Halifax should be in but CFL needs to expand Away from the MLS to cities with no pro teams at all such as London, Windsor, Victoria or even Anchorage-Fairbanks which is an honorary member of Canada anyway. Also throw in Saskatoon.

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