Blue Bomber linebacker Ian Wild took to twitter shortly after the first CFL/LFA draft to raise a question that’s been on the mind of football fans (and personnel people, I’m sure) since the draft was first announced.
Serious question…are the new Mexican football players in the @CFL going to count as "National or International"? This could be a game changer
— Ian Wild, CFP® (@wild_ian) January 14, 2019
It’s one thing to assess Mexican talent and draft the rights to a few players. Actually getting them on a CFL roster is quite another.
The elephant in the room on the CFL’s international vision is just where would these players fit on a roster? New spots or taking existing spots? That ought to be an interesting conversation with the CFLPA. #CFL
— David William Naylor (@TSNDaveNaylor) January 14, 2019
The CFL has repeatedly stated that its affiliation with the LFA is not about uncovering elite talent, but building a relationship with a country full of potential Canadian football fans. This isn’t a project designed to succeed overnight, but one that may pay-off over years — or decades — to come.
There’s value in growing the CFL game internationally — I get that. Nobody should automatically dismiss the league’s attempts to thrive in non-traditional marketplaces.
I also believe that the league would be better-off taking care of high-priority domestic issues — CBA negotiations come to mind — prior to holding a player draft in Mexico. But I digress.
There are questions about the current talent level in Mexico, but these players need an honest shot of making a CFL roster if this program is going to succeed. It’s hard to imagine an average Mexican football fan developing an interest in the CFL if every player selected in Monday’s draft is cut on the first day of training camp in May (assuming, of course, that they are signed in the first place).
This means that the way in which Mexican players are designated north of the border — national or international — matters a tremendous amount.
Teams are willing to develop national talent for longer periods of time because the talent pool is significantly smaller. There are more national spots (21) currently available on CFL rosters than international spots (20) and allowing Mexican talent to receive national status would help this new CFL/LFA partnership succeed.
The problem is that there is nothing “national” about players in the LFA. These are Mexicans who have grown-up playing eleven-man, four-down football — by all accounts, LFA players should receive the same international designation as any American player.
Some American-born players — think Alex Singleton, Mark Chapman or Drew Wolitarsky — qualify as nationals in the CFL because they are eligible to become Canadian citizens through parentage or time spent in Canada as a child.
Even if this rule were applied to LFA players, there may still not be a single Mexican player eligible to be considered a national product in the CFL.
This is a problem because international roster spots are so highly coveted by CFL teams. Nobody is going to keep around a developmental Mexican player over an American they feel is ready to start week one. It just won’t happen.
Qualifying Mexican players as internationals essentially eliminates their chances of a cracking a CFL roster, but labeling them nationals hardly makes sense.
The CFL could always include a third roster designation in its new CBA designed to develop talent from non-traditional markets.
This, however, brings us back to the league’s lack of a CBA heading into the 2019 season. The CFL has put the cart before the horse, drafting 27 players for whom there appears to be no space on a roster.
The CFL will have no viewership of fan support — traditional or non-traditional — without a CBA.
Get that done first. Then we’ll talk about CFL 2.0.