With more detailed injury reports, CFL takes first necessary step towards increasing transparency

Photo courtesy: CFL

Over the last few years the CFL has slowly started to allow more information to be made public, the most notable being the partial release of each team’s negotiation lists a couple times per year.

But the league is taking an even bigger step this year with a report from TSN’s Farhan Lalji stating that the league will introduce a more comprehensive injury report beginning in Week 1 of the 2021 season.

Lalji reports that these new injury reports will state the player’s name, what the injured body part is, their status for practice that day and a projection of their status for that week’s game. These reports will also be updated and released daily.

And it is about time.

The CFL has made no secret of the fact that they want to tap into the single-game sports betting market, which became legal in Canada after the passing of Bill C-218 last month. No longer will Canadians be forced to parlay bets — in Ontario, for example, bettors had to bet on at least three games and win all three to get a modest payout — and will instead be able to bet on individual games, in-game prop bets and future bets like picking win totals, award winners, and more.

The league thinks this passage of Bill C-218 could be a boon to their bottom line and could help the league get on some solid financial footing after estimated losses of between $60-80 million due to the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling the 2020 season.

But if the CFL is serious about going after the sports-betting market they need to make themselves more transparent than they have in the past.

Bettors want as much certainty as they can get to feel comfortable plunking down money on games or prop bets, and with the way the CFL kept everything tightly controlled in the past just won’t work. Giving out more detailed injury reports will have bettors feeling more confident in who or what they are placing their wager on.

In the last week we saw why this new type of injury list is necessary after Blue Bombers coach Mike O’Shea told media members that Andrew Harris was “going to take it easy for a couple of weeks” after Harris left practice early Monday and then did not participate Tuesday.

But let’s be honest, does anyone believe O’Shea that Harris is being held out for any other reason than an injury? This is the type of coach obfuscation that can’t be allowed if fans are going to be betting on games or on season-long future bets.

If Harris is hurt, even if just slightly at this moment, that could make people think twice about placing money on him to lead the league in rushing — Harris currently has the top odds in that category on Bodog at +190 — and might push money onto another player with slightly better odds. But if coaches are allowed to stretch the truth as to why players aren’t participating, it erodes bettor confidence and that wouldn’t help the league at all.

But the implementation of a more detailed injury report doesn’t entirely fix the CFL’s transparency problem. Team depth charts are still highly unreliable, and maybe that will change with more transparency from the injury report, and the league still guards player contract details like they are state secrets.

At a minimum, the league should make the length of player and coach contracts public. That information is getting out there anyway, so it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense anymore to keep this stuff private. Being more open would allow fans to engage with the product on an even deeper level.

Imagine the type of chatter that could be generated if we knew, for example, that the Argos couldn’t keep all the players they have signed the last two years. Fans could speculate on who might be let go and where they might land. That type of sustained interest is good for the league as a whole.

The CFL has long operated under a cloak of mystery, with very little information being disseminated to the public, but if the league wants to join the rest of the sporting world in the 21st century, that needs to change.

The league mandating more open and honest injury reports is a good first step, but it is only a first step. The league needs to go further, and hopefully in the weeks, months and years ahead, the league will do just that.

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.