The big Canadian flag at Tim Hortons Field. Photo by Drew Edwards.

Ever heard of Ray Elgaard? Andy Fantuz? Davis Sanchez?

Without the CFL’s non-import quota it’s likely that none of them would have played pro football and made a name for themselves across Canada.

They’re Canadians. They played positions not usually occupied by Canadian football players on CFL teams. Elgaard and Fanutz were slotbacks, Sanchez a cornerback. Their positions could have been filled quicker — and cheaper — by American players. Instead, rules demanded their teams have a certain number of Canadians on their rosters and a certain number of starters. So Elgaard, Fantuz and Sanchez were allowed to develop until they moved into roles as bona fide starters.

For about the past half-century, CFL coaches and general managers have been predominantly Americans. For most of those decades their over-riding theme has been that there aren’t enough quality Canadian players to play in the CFL. They’ve managed to squeeze that number down, down, down, to the point where the majority of players on a CFL roster are now Americans and only seven Canadians are required to have starting positions.

Seven! Out of 24!

May as well call it the “Token Canadian” Football League.

Now there’s a report from 3DownNation’s Justin Dunk that the current negotiations between the league and the CFL Players’ Association, who are working on a new collective bargaining agreement, are poised to demand only five starters be non-imports, otherwise known as Canadians, or — in the current terminology — “nationals.”

CFL bosses used to gripe that Canadians cost more than Americans, so in a league that always seemed on the brink of bankruptcy it made sense to have fewer high-priced Canadians. Dunk’s report show that isn’t true, that import players are receiving higher average salaries even without calculating the ludicrously exorbitant contracts being doled out to American quarterbacks. 

Gone are the days, apparently, when the CFLPA executive was dominated by veteran, Canadian offensive linemen who demanded that their fellow Canucks have jobs in a league named after them. The CFLPA’s current bargaining committee, indeed, is laden with more active American players than Canadians.

Because of minor football programs that produce athletes for junior and USports teams, plus the dozens who play for American colleges each year, Canadian players have never been better. If there were to be a reduced demand for Canadian players, logically there would be fewer athletes choosing football, which certainly damages Canada’s grassroots programs.

The average fan — the guys who are saying, “Yeah, we need better players!” — really couldn’t tell the difference between American and Canadian talent. Experienced coaches, the men employed by CFL teams, can of course discern inferior Canadian talent. But the coaches don’t buy tickets. The tickets are purchased mainly by people who may have seen these Canadian kids growing up, playing pee wee, high school and university football. 

By using more American players — and the goal ultimately seems to be opening up rosters completely, with no preferences given to Canadians — the CFL becomes strictly another minor-pro league, existing solely as a feeder for the NFL. Or worse, something like the XFL, Alliance of American Football, World League of American Football or United States Football League. Bush league!

The roster ratio makes the CFL unique. It’s not just the three-down, 12-man, bigger-field, return-all-kicks rules. It’s the Canadian content. It’s the gawd-damned Canadian Football League! Keep it as Canadian as it can be, you traitors!

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Darrell Davis
Darrell Davis has reported on the Riders for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2006.