Now is not the time to be talking expansion

There are always a few hot topics that pop up every CFL offseason. When is Tim Tebow coming to play in the league? What can be done to fix officiating? What new rules will the league implement? But when everyone tires of talking about those things, another question comes up that is just as exacerbating:

When will the CFL expand to 10 teams?

Expansion to 10 or more teams has been a topic of conversation for as long as I can remember. The league gets their ninth team, in this case it is Ottawa, and fans start clamouring for the league to find a home for a tenth, eleventh, twelfth franchise somewhere in Canada. I think we can all agree that we would love to see the league even up the numbers, if only to avoid those pesky Week 1 and Week 20 byes, but now is not the time to be asking for such things.

For starters, while the league is very much in better place than it was even five years ago, there is still a lot of work left to be done to get the current franchises into the black before we start thinking about splitting the pie further. Both Toronto and Vancouver, and possibly Montreal, are hardly what you would call CFL hot beds. The Toronto market has been an issue for a very long time, and while steps have been taken to get the team healthy — such as new ownership and a new home — nothing is for sure just yet. Vancouver has seen a steady decline in CFL interest over the last couple of years, no doubt brought about by the Lions’ declining record. Attendance has dwindled and fan fervour over the Leos has cooled significantly since their home-town Grey Cup triumph just five years ago. Montreal has seen attendance decline over the last couple of years as their decade of dominance came to end. Neither Montreal nor Vancouver are quite as troublesome as Toronto, but if left unattended, they could be. Instead of focusing on adding teams, we should instead focus on making sure the current teams we have are in good shape.

Secondly, a couple markets have made the turn, but it is too early to say whether those positive strides will be long lasting. I am of course referring to Hamilton and Ottawa. Since moving into Tim Hortons Field, the Ticats have sold out every game and became a profitable franchise for the first time in over 40 years. Ottawa, as I have witnessed first hand, is football mad right now. They have a loud, engaged fan following, but this is a city that has twice seen a team fold, so the concern that it could happen again is always there. Both Hamilton’s profitability and Ottawa’s football interest need to be sustained long term before we should think about adding another team to the mix.

In fact, the Ottawa situation is the one the league should follow when it comes to expansion. A conditional franchise was granted to Ottawa all the way back in 2008 and it wasn’t until 2014 that the team finally took the field. The league took their time in getting it right as opposed to just getting it done. If the league were to expand more, this is the model to follow.

Finally, as much as we would all love to see a team out in the east coast or in Quebec City, the infrastructure just isn’t there right now. Neither city, nor any city that gets brought up, has a viable stadium and a potential owner. The league cannot put the cart before the horse, and an ownership group and a stadium need to be secured before we can even think about expanding further.

Expansion is a fun topic to discuss, but right now it is not a realistic option for the CFL. Maybe one day we will see a tenth team take the field, but at this moment, it is little more than a pipe dream and not something that should be at the forefront of anyone’s mind.

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