Well, here we go again.
For most of this offseason, after a brief discussion at the Grey Cup, it looked like maybe, just maybe, we’d get through it without the prospect of the CFL adding an additional down, joining the world of American football with four downs.
Instead, the topic is once again on the CFL discussion front-burner following a report from Sportsnet’s Arash Madani that Genius Sports, the league’s new data partner, is pushing the league to make the switch. Whether the league’s board of governors go for it — and if it’s truly being considered by those that ultimately make the decisions — is yet to be seen.
Should the league consider it? Maybe, but they better be damn sure that it’s going to bring the league into a new era of prosperity. Personally, without some other changes that would mean the end of Canadian football as we know it, adding a down isn’t the magic bullet some might think it is.
First off, I don’t believe anyone who says they’d start watching the CFL if it was four downs. I’ve heard the argument before, including from some friends of mine. Ultimately, the goal posts would be moved and they’d find another excuse for not watching, leaving the league with a pissed-off group of former fans and no new fans.
Also, if you think old-school NFL football was three yards and a cloud of dust, four-down football on a 65-yard wide field with the defence a yard off the ball? Oh boy. But, it isn’t really worth getting too worked up about the idea just yet because we don’t really know where it’s going.
That doesn’t mean the CFL should rest on their laurels. Most games in 2021 were downright boring and that’s a problem for the league. Things should improve to some degree in 2022 thanks to a regular offseason with full training camps, a pre-season and the like.
How much? We’ll see. Scoring has been trending downward in the CFL for a number of years now. The good news is commissioner Randy Ambrosie has discussed wanting to make the game itself more exciting.
So, what should the league do? There are plenty of ideas being floated around, here are four things I’d like to see the league try before adding a fourth down.
The play clock
Not everything is sacred in the CFL, nor should it be.
One thing many fans love to hold over the NFL is that the CFL’s play clock is only 20 seconds compared to the NFL’s 40. That’s technically true, but the clock doesn’t actually start until the play is whistled in by the officials. I tracked a few plays during Riders games in 2021 and there were times it took an additional 20-60 seconds for the clock to be whistled in.
The CFL’s play clock leading to a better flow is actually a myth.
Tempo is a big part of some of the best offences in football right now. Teams have the ability to speed up and slow down as they wish in the NFL and the NCAA. Here? Teams have to wait for the go-ahead.
A running clock (along with quicker spotting by the officials) between 30-40 seconds would help the flow of the game tremendously.
The ratio is an important tradition in the CFL and it shouldn’t go anywhere.
One thing that hasn’t helped CFL offences is putting as few Canadians as possible on defence.
Whether Americans are radically better at defence or not can be debated, but coaches certainly seem to think so and have been having success with it.
A simple change that could be made would be to bump the ratio up to eight starting Canadians with at least four required on both sides of the ball.
End the cap
This is pretty straightforward.
The CFL’s decision to cap how much team’s can pay their football operations staff and more so how many people they can have to fill those roles has been a detriment to the play on the field.
I get the financial argument for it but the league needs its players to get the best possible coaching. The league also needs young, innovative coaches to enter the league and work their way up the ranks.
Move the posts
Earlier I talked about non-CFL fans moving their personal goal posts for watching the league, but the league should consider moving the actual goal posts.
I didn’t always agree with this, but I think it’s time.
Move the field goal posts all the way to the back of the end zone.
“But Joel, that would make it much more difficult to kick a field goal?”
Yes, that’s the point.
Right now, teams can effectively reach the 50-yard line and attempt a field goal if they wish. Moving the uprights back 20 yards means teams would have to get to the 13-yard line to attempt a 40-yard field goal.
I do have my worries about conservative coaches kicking field goals at the five, but they’re already doing that anyway. In my mind, going for it in goal situations should be even more desirable with a field goal being more difficult and the opposing team needing to go deep into your end to attempt one of their own off a turnover.
No one idea is likely to be a cure-all for the CFL, but if the league is going to compete in a very competitive entertainment market these days, the games have to be better. These changes are just some things the league could do in order to make the game better.