Mid-October Grey Cup? No thank you

During Grey Cup week, CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie had his annual state-of-the-league address. He covered a wide variety of topics, but one that stuck out to me was the idea of moving the Grey Cup up…

To mid October…

Because, as Ambrosie said, “it’s beautiful everywhere and you don’t have to wear 900 layers of clothing.”

There is something a little funny about him saying that just prior to the first Grey Cup to be played in the snow since 1996, but we’ll get to that a little later.

I will say that I do understand the desire to play the Grey Cup in better weather. As someone who lives in Southern Ontario where snow doesn’t tend to show its face until around January (at least recently) I get that maybe I’m not in a position to tell people who live in Saskatchewan or Alberta that they need to suck it up. But for as much as I can understand the why, I still don’t like the idea.

There are too many negatives in place that I think would harm the league if they moved the Grey Cup up six or seven weeks.

First and foremost, the CFL Draft would be drastically affected. Simply put: the Canadian draft needs to be held after the NFL Draft. I’ll let my colleague John Hodge, who wrote about moving the schedule up over two years ago, explain why:

The CFL must schedule its draft after the NFL draft has already taken place. It simply has to be done this way. Why? Because the top players available in the CFL draft will always garner at least lukewarm interest from NFL teams. Imagine how’d you feel if your favorite CFL team used its first round pick on a top prospect, only for the same player to be drafted weeks later by an NFL team intent on developing him over a number of years? Occurrences like this would limit fan interest in the CFL draft, make it impossible for CFL brain trusts to compile draft boards, and ultimately destroy the integrity of the draft altogether. It’s simply not an option.

John’s words are just as true now as they were then.

Another marquee event on the CFL calendar that would be negatively affected by moving up the season would be Labour Day. Right now, Labour Day kicks off the second half of the season, where playoff pushes begin. In a world where the Grey Cup is played in the middle of October, Labour Day losses its lustre.

Using this year as an example, Labour Day would have occurred in Week 17. By then, the Ticats were already eliminated from playoff contention, and their game against the Argos would not have attracted as much attention as it normal would when held at midseason. Given that the CFL relies on the Labour Day Classics in Alberta and Ontario, and the grudge match between the Bombers and Riders held the day before, to garner excitement and boost ratings for the back half of the season, sacrificing the importance of those games to move the title game up seems counter productive.

There are also the ramifications due to outside forces that need to be considered as well. As it stands, the CFL fights and claws for every inch of space it can get during the relatively quiet summer months, when midseason baseball and the occasional international soccer tournament takes place. Imagine the beginning of the CFL season trying to get news space when the NHL and NBA playoffs are in full swing and doing so again in the fall when the NHL and NBA seasons are starting, and Major League Baseball is heading towards the World Series. If the league moved the start of the season up a month and a half the competition for eyeballs becomes that much fiercer.

Currently, training camps and some pre-season games get overshadowed by those same playoffs, but the league can sacrifice coverage of those because casual fans aren’t tuning in for that stuff. Those are for the diehards who would search that stuff out no matter when it happened. But leagues live and die by the casual observer, the one who knows the stars but doesn’t delve into the minutiae of who will be players 41 and 42 on the 44-man roster. It is one thing to tuck the pre-season into the window where the NHL and CFL overlap, but it is completely different kettle of fish to have the last two rounds of the NHL playoffs coincide with the first four, five or six weeks of the CFL regular season.

Of course, that other side of that is the CFL season ending as the NHL and NBA starts anew, and MLB crowns their champion. In a perfect world, the CFL playoffs and Grey Cup should matter more than the beginnings of the NHL and NBA seasons, and the end of Major League Baseball, but we don’t live in a perfect world. As much as it sucks, the NHL is king in Canada, the success of the Toronto Raptors recently has put the NBA back on the map up here as well, and we have been subject to two of the best World Series of recent memory the last two years. The CFL, for as great as it is and as much as we love it, tends to take a backseat to all three of those things. The Grey Cup and playoffs are still the Grey Cup and playoffs, and they will attract viewership regardless, but those viewers will have a lot more options to consider if the season is moved up and the Grey Cup is competing with the the starts of two of the biggest sports league’s in North America and the end of another one.

And can we really ignore how great this year’s title game was? A championship game played in frosty elements just screams “CANADA!” to everyone. This year’s Grey Cup between the Argos and Stamps is another example of why the game needs to stay where it is. Do we really want to lose out on another possible classic just so we can have temperatures be a little bit better? I don’t want that, and based on how excited everyone got on social media when we knew we were in for our first snowy Grey Cup since 1996, most other fans don’t want it either.

There is never going to be a way to appease everyone when it comes to when the schedule is set. Keep it as is, people complain about the cold. Move it up, people complain about tradition being lost. But given that two of the biggest events on the CFL calendar would be irreparably damaged by making a drastic change to the CFL schedule, the lack of media attention that would be paid during the start of the season conflicting with the end of the NHL and NBA seasons, and the possibility of never seeing another classic slice of Canadiana like we did Sunday, it seems too much to ask to move the season up six or so weeks.

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.