Brock Sunderland finally said what everyone was thinking about Mexico.
As commissioner Randy Ambrosie has continued his hard sell on “CFL 2.0” – a marketing slogan straight out of 2007 – and handed out plane tickets to the upcoming Mexico City combine, football operations types across the league have been noticeably circumspect when it comes to publicly discussing the talent level in the Mexican league. And that makes sense: if the boss has a pet project he’s working on, it hardly makes sense to badmouth it.
But Edmonton Eskimos general manager Brock Sunderland had the cajones to do just that this week.
Speaking to PostMedia’s Gerry Moddejonge, Sunderland finally said what most people had been thinking about the quality of the talent in Mexican league.
“If we’re being honest — and I haven’t seen these players and this is not being disrespectful — but is a player from the Mexican league going to be as good as a receiver that we had, potentially, from USC that has gone to the AAF? No, he’s not. It’s cultural, it’s the coaching you’ve had and the levels that you’ve played at. Most of the guys that we get, if they’re not directly from college, have probably cycled through an NFL camp. So you’re talking fringe NFL players to the Mexican football league. And again, that’s not a shot at that league, but let’s be honest about it: They’re not in the same conversation.”
Now, Sunderland is hardly alone in his opinion. Football ops guys around the league – not to mention players – have quietly been saying the same things for months. There are also concerns about a foray to Mexico City smack in the middle of college all-star season, a prime scouting period. While the league is reportedly pressuring teams to send senior coaches and front office staff to Mexico, Sunderland said he and head coach Jason Maas won’t be going. Adios, amigos.
Now, there is another perspective here. Dan Ralph, the excellent reporter at the Canadian Press, has a story that features quotes from University of Regina Rams head football coach Steve Bryce – who had two Mexican players on his team this season, including a kicker – and John Gregory, a former head coach with both Hamilton and Saskatchewan.
“Football is a fast-growing sport there, there’s no shortage of talent,” said Bryce, while Gregory was even more effusive.
“Let me tell you, there are many players there,” he said. “There’s definite potential there, for sure.”
Well, maybe. But even if the CFL manages to unearth a player or two or even a dozen who can play the Canadian game, does that justify the time, energy and money the league and its teams are investing in this exercise? And if the Mexican players aren’t up to snuff – or even worse, are given the chance to embarrass themselves – both leagues may end up with heuvos on their faces.
Sunderland’s opinion on the quality of football instruction in Mexico is a familiar one: it’s a criticism that’s been levied against Canadian coaching and development in the past. The quality of USports coaching has improved significantly in recent years, particularly among the elite programs, but it’s worth considering: couldn’t the league’s time and money be better spent supporting grassroots football in this country, which, by rule, already produces half of CFL players?
It will be interesting to see what the football types have to say after the fact. My guess is the league’s propaganda division will feature stories on the surprisingly impressive level of talent at the combine, complete with diplomatic quotes from those unwilling to be openly derisive about the league’s Mexican adventure.
But Sunderland deserves credit for speaking truth to power and making an even stronger statement but not bothering to attend. If he thought there was any chance he could find a player a with potential, he’d be there. He doesn’t. And that speaks volumes in any language.