Off-season questions linger for CFL

If I ignore the final score in the final game of the 2009 CFL season, I can step back and say that was an amazing finish to the season. Maybe Saskatchewan failed to grab the brass ring but that was a ride to remember in a season to remember. There is a new order in the CFL and I like the look of things.

If I ignore the final score in the final game of the 2009 CFL season, I can step back and say that was an amazing finish to the season. Maybe Saskatchewan failed to grab the brass ring but that was a ride to remember in a season to remember. There is a new order in the CFL and I like the look of things.

The lovefest for the ’Riders is over for other teams’ fans because Saskatchewan has shed the lovable loser mantle that made them everybody’s second favourite team. It always reminded me of buddy movies where some fat guy has all the good lines and his babe magnet buddy has all the available women. Does anybody really want to be the funny fat guy? Neither do professional football teams.

It is possible to be an unloved loser? Just ask the Toronto Argonauts. I would like to say that the Argos shot themselves in the foot this year but they missed the foot. Kerry Joseph should be a footnote in a painful part of Argonaut history because this team needs to reinvent itself — yesterday.

There is a big tidal wave of opportunity for the CFL right now as record TV numbers back the notion that the league can command serious cash in the next contract negotiations. The Grey Cup game averaged over six million viewers when you include Quebec in the mix. Those are amazing numbers that will allow CFL people to put their feet on the desk of prospective advertisers and sponsors if the spirit moves them. This will be a very different feeling from the “hat in hand” approach in the past for the league.

The CFL will have a few obstacles in the off-season, including the number of Canadians required to be on the field at one time. This is a motherhood issue that has already stirred up very strong opinions about a reduction from seven Canuck starters to four.

Even I have an inner debate about the plan. On one hand, we have a league that offers roster positions to homegrown talent in a uniquely Canadian league. That is an upside to a kid with big CFL dreams and enough talent to make it happen.

On the other hand, CFL teams pay every guy on the roster to do his job. Right now the American players on the bottom end of the team can only play limited roles. They are classified as designated imports and are limited to special teams and bit player roles. Teams pay these guys to play and have no control over the amount of play.

If a few Canadians are injured in a game, then the fun really begins for CFL coaches. The roster shuffles are very difficult in these situations and may mean that a healthy American player cannot replace an injured Canadian player. We have not yet evolved Canadian football programs to the point where we have enough talented Canadian players to cover the roster requirements — that is a cold fact of the game.

So the off-season will be very interesting for my favourite sports league. Bring on 2010.

Jim Sutherland is a local freelance columnist. He can be reached at

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