The CFL has an entertainment problem and there’s no easy solution

There’s no question these are tough times for the CFL.

Since the 2019 season, a lot has happened and not a lot of it has been good. An entire season has been missed due to a global pandemic greatly hurting the finances of the league.

That led to conversations with the XFL that may or may not be dead long-term.

In that time, fans across the country stood up and shared their fears about losing the Canadian game. A game that has historically been more exciting and interesting than its American neighbours.

But is that still the case? I’m not so sure.

Every week it feels like NCAA and NFL games regularly produce more exciting games filled with plenty of offence.

And to be clear, this isn’t a shot at the Canadian game as U Sports and CJFL games this year have been more exciting too.

Since the start of the 2015 season, no quarterback in the CFL has cracked the 40 touchdown mark and no quarterback has thrown for more than 5,000 yards since the 2018 season.

There is certainly context to these numbers with injuries and whatnot, but it’s not promising.

Given the shortened season, it’s unrealistic for any quarterback in the CFL to reach the 5,000-yard mark and throw for 40 touchdowns. However, Blue Bombers pivot Zach Collaros currently leads the league with 2,832 yards and 18 touchdowns. Over the course of an 18 game season that’s a 4,600-yard and 29 touchdown pace.

Those numbers aren’t terrible, but they’re not numbers that scream excitement in the CFL. A league where quarterbacks who aren’t Hall of Famers used to put up 40-plus touchdowns a year.

The quarterbacks behind Collaros aren’t even really close to him either. Currently, no quarterback in the league has an average at or above 250 yards per game other than Collaros — two pivots were over 300 yards a game in 2019.

Right now, the Alouettes lead the league in points per game at just 24. That’s below the 2015 Calgary Stampeders who led the league at 25 points per game that year for the lowest in the last five seasons played.

CFL teams are currently averaging about 19 points a game. That’s not good.

While points aren’t the be-all, end-all of entertaining football, they certainly paint a picture and right now it’s not a pretty one for the CFL. One I believe, that has been trending downward over the last number of years and has only been made worse by the missed season.

How many games do you really remember as great this year? There have been some decent finishes but no true classics. Even the games that finish strong, I’d really like to see them be good for the first 57 minutes, too.

In fairness, defences in the CFL have gotten better in recent years, but that’s not the whole story here. The offences have definitely gotten worse. Why? Well, I don’t think there’s one single thing that has led the CFL to this point.

I think the league is struggling to find truly elite quarterback talent with the NFL now taking chances on quarterbacks it previously wouldn’t have and might have made their way to the CFL.

Right now, I’d say most of the quarterbacks in the league are good but not truly great. Bo Levi Mitchell and Micheal Reilly are Hall of Famers, but are any of the other recent starting pivots? I would say no and none really seem to be on the horizon at the moment. Even Mitchell and Reilly are shadows of their former selves.

That’s something the league can’t control, but there are some things that the league has done to itself.

First off, I think the coaching salary cap has had some unintended consequences. While I can appreciate the desire for cost certainty and fairness across the board, limiting the number of positions available is hurting teams. Offences have made meteoric improvements in many leagues thanks to the number of coaches helping make them better. The CFL is right to limit how much teams can spend on their coaching staff, but limiting the number of people on the staff isn’t helping.

That said, the coaching seems to be rather uninspiring right now too. Safe, boring decisions are happening across the league. When was the last time you remember true innovation in a CFL offence? Nothing jumps off the page for me.

The time has also come for the league to have a conversation with the players union about the workday. As it stands right now, teams only get four-and-a-half hours per day to work with players. This is an old rule that existed from a time when players worked day jobs during the season.

That doesn’t happen anymore. Give the coaches more time to work with the players for the sake of the product and bring back the off-season mini-camps, at least for this coming off-season to give teams a chance to get back on track.

Another issue plaguing the league is the one-year contract. While I can certainly understand it from a player perspective, massive turnover from year-to-year isn’t helping teams build any continuity on offence and in turn is hurting the product. Although, I don’t know how to fix this.

I think the game has a pace issue too. Honestly, it feels slow. CFL fans have long boasted about the 20-second play clock, but in reality, the clock doesn’t start until officials start it. It’s hard for offences to play with tempo as we see in the NFL and the NCAA thanks to the running play clock. There are many times where the time between plays is the same if not longer than leagues with longer play clocks. Giving the teams the ability to play with tempo would greatly help the offences.

Fixing all of this in a short period of time isn’t easy but the league needs to find a way.

I appreciate a good defensive football game as much as the next person, but ultimately that won’t help grow the league. Fast-paced, high octane football will.

We can talk as much as we want about the business problems facing the league, but the fact remains if the product on the field isn’t exciting, nothing else matters.