A new team, new stadiums and new rivalries are just some of the things that await football fans, with the 2014 CFL season promising more changes than any in recent years.
The season just finished may have had a storybook ending for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who won their fourth Grey Cup on home turf, but it was a challenge for many other teams in the CFL.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers lived up to their name, bombing big time in their spiffy new stadium as they went 3-15. Even Investors Group Field showed cracks, very literally, and less than a year after it opened renovations are taking place to the open-air press box so the city can at some point soon host a Grey Cup.
Despite some record-setting performances from quarterback Ricky Ray, the Toronto Argonauts stumbled on their path to earn a return trip to the Grey Cup.
And the Montreal Alouettes got a peek at life without veteran quarterback Anthony Calvillo and it wasn’t pretty.
But tomorrow is another day and here are a few things expected when the 2014 season gets under way:
The Ottawa Redblacks will return the CFL to the nation’s capital. The CFL has been an eight team league since the Ottawa Renegades suspended operations before the 2006 season. Other than a brief and unsuccessful experiment in the 1990s, which added American teams to boost the number to 13, nine is the traditional high-water mark of the CFL.
Do I hear 10
The CFL is staying Canadian this time, but it doesn’t want to stop at nine teams. The league is looking for a 10th host city, perhaps Moncton or Halifax. The biggest hurdle to expansion right now seems to be finding a large enough stadium to accommodate a CFL team. Moncton Stadium drew just over 15,000 in 2013 for Touchdown Atlantic between the Montreal Alouettes and Hamilton Tiger-Cats, but its regular capacity is only about 10,000.
Go west young Blue
The return of Ottawa to the CFL allows the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to move back to their historic base in the CFL West Division. The Bombers were always a western team, until Montreal and then Ottawa folded, forcing Winnipeg to bounce back and forth between the West and East for the last 27 years.
Besides the Redblacks remodelled stadium at Lansdowne, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats plan to christen Tim Hortons Field in 2014, after spending a vagabond construction season as tenants of the University of Guelph. The Saskatchewan Roughriders are expecting their new $278-million digs to be football ready by 2017.
The league will see some first-time new head coaches in 2014. Edmonton and Winnipeg both have new coaches in 2014 after finishing seventh and eighth in league standings in 2013. Former Argonauts defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones landed his first CFL head coaching job in Edmonton in late November and the Bombers then tabbed Argos special teams co-ordinator Mike O’Shea for his first top spot. The Ottawa Redblacks picked Calgary defensive co-ordinator Rick Campbell to lead their debut in the league.
New draft rules
CFL teams will have a better idea whether the players they draft will actually report. For non-imports playing in Canada, they will be eligible three years after completing their first year of CIS eligibility. If they’re playing in the NCAA or NAIA in the United States, they will be eligible after their senior season of eligibility. Teams won’t have to guess whether drafted players who redshirted as freshmen will impress enough to land jobs in the NFL.
Will he or won’t he
Anthony Calvillo has been a fixture in the CFL for 20 years with the Montreal Alouettes. But after concussion issues that made him miss much of 2013, his future in the league looked uncertain at best as he confessed he was pondering retirement. It’s a day the Alouettes always knew would come, but dealing with it is another matter.
A little rain
With so much good news, there has to be a cloud somewhere for the CFL. That may be rumours of a renewed push to bring an NFL team to Toronto, this time led by rock star Jon Bon Jovi and Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment. If it ever does happen, to say it wouldn’t be good for the Argos or CFL in general is an understatement. But it doesn’t look imminent if the team in question is the Buffalo Bills, now locked into their current stadium through the end of the decade.