It’s been 26 years since Jim Barker first made his way across the Canadian border to become an assistant coach with the Montreal Alouettes.
The Pasadena, California native has held a lot of different roles since then with four different franchises, including being a head coach, general manager, and TSN panelist. One aspect of the Canadian game continues to fascinate and excite the Toronto Argonauts’ new senior advisor: the ratio.
“It’s the thing I love the most about the Canadian Football League,” Barker said on The SportsCage. “The ratio and how you manage it and how you decide to take your roster and make it as good as it possibly can be, because obviously there’s not as many Canadian players as there are American players.”
The CFL’s required number of Canadian players and starters has come under scrutiny in recent years from critics who feel that maximizing American talent could expand the league’s reach and appeal. Meanwhile, Canadian football nationalists argue that the sporting affirmative action program for homegrown talent remains vital to the CFL’s survival.
Though he’s an American personnel man — typically a group to grumble about the strain of ratio requirements — Barker is firmly in the latter category.
“I love the Canadian Football League and I love the ratio. The one thing I think having a number of Canadian players does is there are very few small towns in Canada that don’t have at least one person who has gone on and played in the CFL. That to me helps keep the touch of the CFL broad,” he explained.
Many feared the league’s unsuccessful dalliance with the upstart XFL could be the death blow for Canadian content requirements, but it seems safe for the time being.
With the USFL drawing away American prospects and Canadian football talent reaching new heights on both sides of the border, some have suggested increasing the ratio to benefit the league. Others want to see the way teams employ it altered to facilitate more scoring.
Barker isn’t sure exactly what a perfect ratio looks like, but he knows it remains essential to keeping the CFL relevant across the country.
“Does it have to be seven starters? Maybe. Maybe three of them should be on defence or two of them on defence or you mandate things like that, but maintaining that to me is so important because of what I just said,” he continued. “I think that it gives youngsters something to look forward to. That, shoot, he did it from this town, so I can do it from this town.”
That keeps grass-roots football at the community, high school, junior and university levels thriving from coast to coast, ensuring the CFL will ever run out of homegrown stars.