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.