Why the CFL needs to change its award structure

In many ways, I am a traditionalist. I’m the guy who advocated that the CFL should remain two separate divisions — my colleague, John Hodge, argued the opposite — despite the fact that the gap between East and West this year is as wide as it has ever been.

That said, there is one tradition that the league needs to get away from and that is the East vs. West nature of its yearly awards.

This year’s MOP will be Bo Levi Mitchell. That is not in question. He is up against Ottawa’s Ernest Jackson for the award. No disrespect meant to Jackson, but if you were to rank the CFL players most deserving of MOP consideration, he wouldn’t rank in the top five and probably wouldn’t even rank in the top 10. Mike Reilly and Jonathon Jennings, both team finalists, are more deserving. As are receivers Adarius Bowman, Derel Walker, Manny Arceneaux and Bryan Burnham, running back Jerome Messam and linebackers Solomon Elimimian and Adam Bighill. That is nine players just from the West that probably have a more legitimate claim to the MOP award than Jackson does.

Again, this is not meant to disrespect Jackson in any way; he had a phenomenal season, but he is not even the best receiver on his own team. That’s Chris Williams. And Williams only wasn’t Ottawa’s, and the division’s, nominee because he got hurt a month ago. So Jackson is pretty much a compromise candidate, and he probably wasn’t even the best suited one. Andy Fantuz probably should have been the East’s nominee, but his own injury late in the season scuttled his chances. That said, he still got my vote over Jackson and the other two East nominees, Bear Woods and Brandon Whitaker.

But it is not just MOP. Name some of top rookies in the CFL this year? If Taylor Loffler and Justin Cox are not two of the first names out of your mouth, you’re crazy. Along with Calgary’s DaVaris Daniels, who was named division’s top rookie, Loffler and Cox were fantastic in their first year in the CFL and more than deserve recognition, especially ahead of the guy who was named the East’s top rookie, Ottawa’s Jason Lauzon-Seguin.

Justin Medlock will battle, and beat, Brandon Banks for the league’s top special team award, but that shuts out Chris Rainey, who will likely be the league’s all-star returner, but yet because he plays in the same division as a guy who booted a CFL-record 60 field goals, he gets no recognition at awards time.

To fix this, the league should just do away with team and divisional awards and allow the voters — of which I am one — to vote for whomever they see fit. No rounds of voting, no staggered reveal, none of that. Just let the voters pick their top three for each award and then announce the three top vote getters as the finalist. That way you don’t get lesser players getting nominations because the competition isn’t as stiff.

Some traditions are great and others are passé. The league’s insistence that the awards be a battle between East and West is the latter.

It is time for change. It is time to just let the best, most deserving, players vie for the awards.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.