A veteran of the Arena Football League, United Football League, The Spring League, and even the National Football League, McLeod Bethel-Thompson has played a lot of different styles of football in his time.
However, the Toronto Argonauts’ journeyman starting quarterback has fallen in love with the Canadian Football League and its unique set of rules over the last five years. As a result, he’s been blown away with the offseason conversation over altering those rules to create more excitement.
“What’s wrong with the Canadian game?” Bethel-Thompson asked rhetorically during an appearance on The Green Zone. “I don’t see it, it’s a beautiful game of its own. It’s big, creative, been played as long as the NFL game has — I think it’s exciting. I think if you’re not excited by it, then you’re not a football fan.”
Nevertheless, the CFL has undergone an extensive internal review process sparked by the dip in scoring during the 2021 season, looking at every aspect of its operations to find ways to spice up the product. The result has been contentious debates over topics like a potential switch to four downs and cuts to the Canadian ratio, as well as smaller suggested changes like narrowing the hashmarks.
Prominent CFL figures like former Argos’ head coach Marc Trestman have come out against the proposed alterations and Bethel-Thompson agrees with his old coach. The CFL’s issues are not on the field, but off it, where the league has failed to market effectively, particularly in big cities like Toronto.
“What we need to focus on is more exposure, more people watching the game, more people understanding the game, more people playing the game,” he stressed. “It has nothing to do with the content. There are a lot of really amazing football players playing the game at a really high level and we don’t get the respect that we deserve in a lot of ways.”
The CFL struggles with a perception problem in the face of the NFL monopoly and rule changes can’t fix it. Canadian football has remained an exciting, open field game even as interest has waned in parts of the country, but the league has not invested in changing people’s hearts and minds.
“There’s this negative stigma about it that people are just gobbing on to and I don’t know where it comes from, but I know it’s not because of the game,” Bethel-Thompson stressed. “I know it’s because of the way it’s framed and talked about and commented about. I think the Canadian football game is an awesome game.”
The constant self-criticism by the league while trying to find a magic solution to their problems only adds to that stigma in the minds of the casual observer, confirming their own biases and distracting from the product on the field.
Those who love football already appreciate the league for its many unique nuances, and those that don’t will not be swayed by self-inflicted wounds. It doesn’t take Bethel-Thompson’s ice blue eyes to see that.
For the many who love the game exactly the way it is, the upcoming season will make the discussion about the action on the field and not the offseason debates about how the game should be played. And now that there are many different regulated sportsbooks in Ontario, we’re going to see fans and bettors like the current CFL game just fine.