‘Let’s just hope it doesn’t go on too long’: Bombers’ Mike O’Shea opposes new changes to CFL ratio

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Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ head coach Mike O’Shea is not a fan of the CFL’s newly convoluted roster designations.

On Wednesday, the league revealed the details of their new designated nationalized American rule, which was negotiated as part of the latest collective bargaining agreement. Teams will now be able to designate one veteran American on each side of the ball as nationalized. That player may not start the game but can substitute for the American starter an unlimited number of times, while also taking the spot of any designated national for up to 23 snaps in the game.

The implementation of the new rule has caused confusion and outcry in Week 1, as several teams have listed marquee stars as backups in order to exploit the rule and get more Americans on the field.

“I think there’s still confusion about exactly the intent of these sorts of things. I do think it’s important that everybody involved in the CFL works together to make sure we’re doing the best for our league,” a reluctant O’Shea told the Winnipeg media on Thursday.

“I think right now there’s a lot of chatter, a lot of negativity about this and I think it’s everybody’s responsibility to avoid that, to make sure that we showcase the absolute best of our league, especially with more coverage in other places. To have that overshadowed by some confusion, let’s just hope it doesn’t go on too long.”

The original CBA proposal allowed for two veteran American backups — defined as a player with at least three years of experience on their current team or five in the league — to substitute in place of a Canadian starter for up to 49 percent of the snaps, providing an incentive to extend the careers of those players. However, concerns over how that arrangement would be regulated led to significant changes.

The players now being designated as nationalized by most teams would have played almost the entirety of the game regardless, with the young Americans being listed as the starters actually being the ones replacing the Canadians. It appears to be a direct contradiction of the stated purpose of the rule change, while also making it more difficult for new fans and prospective bettors to understand the game.

The Bombers chose to apply the rule closer to its original intent, designating returner Janarion Grant as their only nationalized American. He is expected to be used sparingly on offence, but can now take the place of Canadian receiver Drew Wolitarsky for specific packages.

O’Shea would not reveal the thinking behind that move but appeared unwilling to shake up his roster construction in order to exploit the new ratio loophole.

“We will continue to do what’s right for our team,” he responded flatly.

The North Bay, Ont. native was a Hall of Fame linebacker before becoming the CFL’s best head coach and has long been a fierce defender of Canadian talent. He confirmed that he felt the rule change was an effort to erode the importance of homegrown players and had no explanation as to why the league would move in that direction.

“They didn’t ask me,” O’Shea shrugged, shaking his head.

Winnipeg is scheduled to open their season on Friday, June 9 at home against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

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.