Three downs on the CFL on TSN: analyzing Week 4 television broadcasts

Photo: Timothy Matwey/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Another slate from the 2023 CFL regular season is in the books, so it’s time again to look at the week that was for the CFL on TSN.

Unfortunately, we only have three games to look at as the league decided Canada Day long weekend was a good time to send three teams on a bye. Personally, I think that’s somewhat foolish but that’s a discussion for another column.

Here are my thoughts on Week 4 of the CFL on TSN.

First down

When it comes to sports broadcasting, there may not be a more important job outside of the actual players and coaches than the game’s play-by-play announcer.

With the three games being relatively spread out on the calendar but taking place in a fairly close proximity to one another, TSN decided to give us a heavy dose of Marshall Ferguson as he performed play-by-play duties for all three games, while colour analysts Glen Suitor and Duane Forde split the duties alongside him.

It’s possible that Rod Smith wasn’t available over the long weekend or if this was another attempt by Bell to keep costs down. Whatever the reason, it was unfortunate.

I’ve never met Ferguson and while I don’t mean to sound disrespectful, I can’t get into his play-by-play style. The former U Sports quarterback knows the game well, comes well-prepared and clearly puts in a lot of work behind the scenes. He’s just not that interesting to listen to.

Overall, his call has improved but I’d still like to hear more enthusiasm if he’s going to be a top play-by-play broadcaster. If you’re passively watching the game — say, focusing most of your attention on Twitter (when it works, anyway) — it can be difficult to know when to look up.

Dustin Neilson, who appears to still being doing occasional CFL games despite Bell Media unexpectedly taking TSN 1260 off the air and laying him off in the process, brings a lot of juice to his calls. Smith does, too.

I’d like to hear a little more range from Ferguson if he is to remain in the big chair. Otherwise, I think he’d benefit from a shift to the analyst chair.

Second down

There may not be a harder task in broadcasting than having to unexpectedly kill time.

The CFL on TSN crew has certainly dealt with its fair share of weather delays over the years, and they had another on Saturday night ahead of the game between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Montreal Alouettes.

I know my fellow 3DownNation contributor Matthew Ross was fairly critical of the way the time was filled, and I don’t entirely disagree with him — especially given how little they used Matthew Scianitti, who was reporting from the scene — but when these broadcasts are planned out to the second, it’s difficult to shift on the fly to something different.

I suspect this is why we pretty much just got the same talking heads discussing the same range of topics they’ve mostly covered in the past. Anything else would have required a bit more planning.

It’s certainly not the most compelling television but it’s a pretty unique CFL challenge. In the NFL, unless it’s a primetime game, another game can be shown. MLB broadcasters generally have that option, too.

In the USFL this year, a weather delay just featured a portion of the game from the day before.

My only critique of how the situation was handled is they probably should have bailed to filler programming sooner. By the time it was 7:30 p.m. in Montreal, we knew the game wasn’t going to start for at least another 30 minutes. The panel didn’t need to be stretched out all the way until the top of the hour.

Third down

It’s time TSN brings in a rule expert or we get some kind of look into the command centre.

This is more-so based on a situation from last week that I didn’t get to write about as I was off for the birth of my daughter. This is my column, so I’ll do what I want.

During the game between the Roughriders and Stampeders, there was a play in which Saskatchewan defensive back Amari Henderson knocked a fumbled kickoff return out of bounds but possession remained with Calgary.

After the ruling upon review was announced, we learned little about the play, which happened in the first quarter, until half-time. That was far too long to explain the ruling on the field.

This past week during the Winnipeg-Montreal game, there were a couple of pass interference calls and a few other decisions that could have used further explanations that never really came.

I can get why the CFL may not be open to having the command centre on-screen, but we need more information when it comes to how these decisions are made. A third party could also share their opinion on whether the command centre applied the rule correctly.

Either route would be better than what we currently have.

Watchability index

  1. B.C. vs. Toronto: the chaos on the field certainly helped, but it was a pretty straightforward and fine broadcast.
  2. Winnipeg vs. Montreal: love to see the cable cam, but it needs to be used every game. I was obviously wrong about its increased use following Week 1.
  3. Edmonton vs. Ottawa: the game was a dud but a good broadcast can help. This one didn’t.
Joel Gasson is a Regina-based sports writer, broadcaster and football fanatic. He is also a beer aficionado.