Wednesday 24 March 2010

This Is Our Game

There are a lot of great things about the Canadian Football League, a lot of things that differentiate the CFL from its giant neighbour to the South, the NFL. One of those things is Canadian talent. I'm not here to argue that the talent that comes from Canada is better than that of the United States. That would be a fool's errand. There are hundreds of colleges and universities churning out thousands of athletes a year in the U.S. The American football player is better developed to play professional football than his Canadian counterpart, but that doesn't mean Canadians don't have their place in pro football. The best place for them is the CFL.

There has been talk recently of reducing the number of starting players that are Canadian. Currently, the rule states that teams must start 7 non-imports and have a total of 20 on the roster. The number of total Canadians would remain the same, but now the talk is that the league would like to reduce the number of starting Canadians from 7 to 4.

Reducing the number of Canadians in any capacity is a terrible idea. It is the homegrown players that most fans identify with. Dave Stala in Hamilton, Kevin Eiben in Toronto and Paris Jackson in BC: all players who perform at a high level, all Canadians. To lose or restrict Canadian players would change the very nature of what makes the Canadian Football League special, and alter one of the main differences between the CFL and the NFL.

Many people, myself included, contend that the CFL is not just a sports league, but a fundamental part of Canadian culture. Part of that reasoning comes from having Canadian-born and -trained players competing and thriving. Like I said before, these are the players that fans tend to identify with most. When a player plays in his hometown (as many players have done) he becomes more than just a player; he becomes an extension of that community. He also has the ability to connect with the fan base in a way that an American-born player just cannot do. Look at this video of Dave Stala after he scored a TD in Hamilton last season:

That group of guys that he runs into and celebrates with were guys he went to high school with. That type of interaction wouldn't be the same if, say, Prechae Rodriguez had scored that TD. There is something special about being a Canadian playing in the CFL.

Where would some of the great players be if it weren't for the guarantees that the CFL provides? Would players like Ben Cahoon in Montreal or Andy Fantuz in Saskatchewan or Doug Brown in Winnipeg have been able to even get the opportunity to become stars had it not been for the rules that demand they start?

I hear the argument of some, saying that if the players were so good, they'd make it on their skill and not need the assistance of the Import Ratio Rule. That argument doesn't fly with me. If given the opportunity a coach would go with an admittedly more well-prepared American-born player. The fact that there hasn't been a long-term starting QB for a CFL team in decades shows this to be the case. It's not like the CIS (or its predecessor the CIAU) didn't produce some great QBs; it's just that their American counterparts had been better trained. Most guys who play QB in the U.S have been doing so since they were children of 10 or 11 years of age. You cannot replicate that type of experience.

Altering the Import Ratio Rule would be doing a great disservice not just to current players, but to future generations as well. Growing up I wanted to be a football player, and while it would've been a dream to play in the NFL, I always said to myself that regardless of money I would love to play for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (I also said that no amount of money would ever get me to play for the Argonauts). It was guys like Rocky DiPietro and Paul Osbaldiston and Mike Morreale and Rob Hitchcock that made me believe that playing for the Tiger-Cats was a possibility. Yes, I loved Danny McManus and Earl Winfield and Joe Montford, but I most identified with the Canadian-born players. Losing that connection would be taking away something that makes the CFL unique.

If anything, the league should be looking in the opposite direction. The CFL should be trying to find a way to increase – not decrease – the number of Canadians. The talent level in Canada is at an all-time high, and looking to reduce the number of starting Canadians seems counterproductive. With the CFL currently at one of its highest points in terms of popularity, it would be foolish to change what people are tuning in to see in larger and larger numbers. It seems like the old adage "don't make change for change's sake."

Reducing the number, even slightly, starts the CFL on a path that no fan wants to see it go down. If the numbers are reduced, why not just get all pretense over with, change the league name to NFL North or NFL2 and be done with it? The reason that won't happen is because we, the fans, won't let it happen. While many of us love the NFL, we also love the CFL. We love the CFL for different reasons. One of those reasons is the abundance of Canadian-born players. I, for one, do not want to see that go away. I want to see the CFL strengthened, hopefully on the backs of the many talented Canadians who play this great game. Like the title says, this is our game, and I don't want to see Canadians forced out of it.

RELATED POST: Canadian QBs in the CFL

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