The Canadian Football League has made clear it will not be converting to a four-down game in 2022, leaving many of the idea’s proponents to keep their dissenting opinions under wraps.
Avoiding controversial topics has never been something Bo Levi Mitchell has done throughout his career in Canada.
“Ask anything you want,” the outspoken Calgary Stampeders’ quarterback said when the subject of a four-down CFL was broached in an appearance on The Green Zone. “My opinions tend to be unpopular.”
As promised, the two-time Most Outstanding Player’s take on the subject is guaranteed to ruffle some feathers.
“I’ll tell you the truth of how I feel. The CFL is a unique game that’s been around a really long time and the diehards of this game will remain diehards no matter what. You might only lose a handful of them if you move to a four-down game,” Mitchell explained.
“I want to do whatever it takes to make this game better, grow this game with the younger crowd and to keep this game around for the next hundred years.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean adding an extra down, but the veteran quarterback doesn’t see that as a sacred cow. Every sport has needed to make changes and if those above his pay grade believe the CFL needs a structural facelift, he can absolutely get behind it.
“The NBA changed, the NFL has changed. There’s a change or die quote that everybody stands by,” Mitchell noted.
“Now when is that and what are the characteristics of your game that you do have to change? I don’t think I know, I don’t think I’m smart enough to tell you what those things are. I don’t know if four downs is the answer to that. This game is exciting because of the way it’s played and I don’t want to take away from that. I would agree with the smarter minds out there, the [Dave Dickensons] , the [Mike] O’Sheas, the guys who decide what will make this game better and grow and stay around for another hundred years. That’s what I’m for.”
Those decision-makers have tossed aside any conversation around four-downs for the time being, instead opting to explore smaller changes like narrowing the hashmarks. However, Stampeders’ leadership was one of just two teams — the other being the Toronto Argonauts — who voted in favour of exploring the change further.
Mitchell believes his team’s brass was right in pushing forward with the idea as a potential solution to the league’s recent dip in scoring.
“My true, honest opinion of the subject is increasing the game to four downs will increase scoring. If you give every single quarterback and every offence out there the ability to take the bubble on second and 10 and get five yards, now we get to be smarter. We get to not take as many chances,” Mitchell said.
“There’s a lot of two-and-outs in our game right now, there’s a lot of punts. I could be wrong, I’m sure [Stampeders’ special teams coordinator Mark Kilam] would be able to tell you real fast right now compared to 10 years ago when it comes to punts per game and everything, but it does feel as if there’s a lot of long drives that don’t turn into points. You watch an offence have the ball for six minutes, in your mind you’re like: ‘How have they not gotten a field goal or touchdown out of this yet?’”
Adding an extra down would undoubtedly help teams move the ball, but opponents of the idea point out that it would incentivize coaches to take fewer chances. Bubbles and five-yard runs inside may be easy and efficient for an offence, but they don’t bring the excitement value the league is seeking. Although, Mitchell disagrees with that premise.
“I don’t think it would create a more conservative game,” he argued. “I think Dave [Dickenson] and the OCs out there, Pat [DelMonaco], these guys will find ways to be more conservative at times, but it’s also going to give me the opportunity to take shots.”
Free plays on second-and-one knowing you’ll still have a chance to sneak it are all well and good, but many still feel that having three downs is an integral part of the CFL’s identity. One of the league’s biggest stars simply thinks otherwise.