CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie denies ‘anti-Canadian sentiment,’ but sees issues with current ratio

Photo courtesy: CFL

Serious changes to the CFL’s Canadian ratio are on the table for next season, but commissioner Randy Ambrosie is insisting that the league isn’t waging a war on homegrown talent… even if the number of Canadian citizens on rosters next season is likely to decrease.

“I’ll start by saying there is not a single CFL general manager, there’s not a single CFL head coach, nor a single CFL coach that I’ve met and talked to that doesn’t believe that Canadian players are a critical and fundamental part of the Canadian Football League,” Ambrosie said in a public appearance in Hamilton as part of his annual fan engagement road trip.

“There’s nobody and anyone that would suggest that somehow there’s an anti-Canadian sentiment is just wrong — they’re just full on wrong.”

Nevertheless, Ambrosie made no effort to deny reports that the league is pushing to replace Canadian roster spots with places for naturalized American veterans as part of their collective bargaining negotiations with the CFL Players’ Association.

“I think what we’ve had to acknowledge is that the decline in participation rates in football in Canada is having an effect on the size of the talent pool,” Ambrosie added.

Amateur football leaders note that football participation rates have largely remained stable this century with a slight decline in the past few years that has been mirrored in the United States. The coronavirus pandemic will also have an effect on the talent available to the CFL in the coming years, though some jurisdictions have reported noticeable upticks from pre-pandemic registration numbers in their first season post-lockdown.

While a long-term national trend for the future is difficult to determine at this stage, many have pointed to the CFL’s lack of involvement with grassroots football as a hinderance to increasing their potential talent pool. Despite often paying lip service to growing the game, league leadership has exhibited little interest in aiding the long-term health of the sport nationally with support financial or otherwise.

The ratio has long existed as a form of affirmative action to ensure Canadian players are given chances at the professional level despite a less robust and more poorly funded football infrastructure at the amateur level, but Ambrosie feels it is something that we need to get away from. He notes that Canadian players still make up a significant portion of NHL rosters despite no ratio for their inclusion.

“People believe that the Canadian players are more than capable enough to compete for jobs in the NHL. I believe that Canadian players are more than capable of competing for jobs in the CFL,” he said.

“How do I know that? I know that because now we have roughly 24 Canadian kids playing on NFL rosters, the most in football’s history. Why? Because Canadian players are super talented. We actually need to get away from this feeling that somehow Canadian players are an inferior quality athlete.”

Ambrosie — himself a Canadian football player who enjoyed a nine-year CFL career in part due to ratio requirements — believes a disproportionate number of national players are receiving opportunities because of the small talent pool.

“Right now, roughly one out of every 20 U Sports players plays in the CFL. What number of American kids play in the NFL? It’s actually one out of every 278 US college players will play in the NFL,” the commissioner claimed.

“I don’t think I’ve read a Sports Illustrated article of late where people are criticizing the NFL for its lack of commitment to US college athletes. The best athletes play.”

With the United States being ten times the size of Canada, Ambrosie seems to be seeking to change that disparity by offering more Americans employment north of the border. Meanwhile, with a population that’s never been higher, the CFL wants to employ fewer local products than ever before.

Many claim that some of the CFL’s greatest stars would never have seen the field if not for the ratio, but Ambrosie would like something more akin to a true meritocracy when it comes to evaluating talent. We can only hope that will also extend to the commissioner’s chair.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.