Thursday 29 April 2010

CFL Expansion: The Dream and the Realities

CFL expansion is always a hot-button topic among fans. A consensus is hardly ever reached on what cities would make the best candidates for expansion. While some cities seem unlikely (London, Windsor), others seem realistic (Quebec City, Moncton/Halifax), and still others seem all but guaranteed (Ottawa), the topic of expansion seems to bring about more opinions than there are people. This year's Touchdown Atlantic game in Moncton between the Toronto Argonauts and the Edmonton Eskimos has revitalized discussion among fans on possible expansion.

Being a huge fan of the CFL, I also have a very detailed opinion of how I hope the CFL will look one day in the not-so-distant future. I put extra emphasis on hope. I fully believe that my scenario is possible, but unlikely. First, I'll propose my dream scenario, and then I will submit for you the more realistic one. Don't worry, my dear reader, there are no U.S.-based teams to be found in either proposal. No one is silly enough to want to revisit that nightmare... I hope.

The Dream Scenario

I would one day love to see a 12-team, 3-division Canadian Football League. The divisions would be (expansion teams in bold):

West: BC, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatchewan
Central: Hamilton, London, Toronto, Winnipeg
East: Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec City

As you can see, the CFL would expand to four new locales: London, Ontario; Halifax, Nova Scotia; Ottawa, Ontario; and Quebec City, Quebec.

This to me would be the perfect size for the CFL. Existing rivalries (Hamilton-Toronto, Edmonton-Calgary) could continue, and new ones could be created. Imagine the heat between Montreal and Quebec City. It could easily build on the bitter feelings brought out during the heyday of the Canadiens and Nordiques in the NHL. Hamilton and London could build up a nice rivalry as well.

In this plan every major region in Canada is represented. The CFL would truly be a Canadian league, stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

The playoff format could allow for 8 teams to advance: the top two teams in each division, as well as two "wild card" teams being selected by record. This would rid the CFL of a bye week in the playoffs, as well as pave the way for Grey Cups that we haven't been able to see because of the current East-West playoff structure. Could you imagine a Hamilton-Toronto or Edmonton-Calgary Grey Cup? How cool would that be?

A CFL that has 12 teams, broken down into 3 divisions, would be great. I realize that this is not likely to occur any time in the near future, but this is my dream scenario.

The Realistic Scenario

Most likely, if the CFL was to expand, we'd see a 10-team, 2-division league, without any major changes to the playoff format. In this (more likely) proposal, the CFL would be configured as such (expansion teams in bold):

West: BC, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatchewan, Winnipeg
East: Halifax/Moncton, Hamilton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto

I put Halifax/Moncton because the Touchdown Atlantic game this season is being played in Moncton, but Halifax has a much larger population, so they would be a good candidate to house a team. I can't choose which one would be better, so I just put both, mostly to hedge my bets. Ottawa, once again, springs up. It seems highly likely that we will see another 9-team CFL in the next 2 or 3 years, with Ottawa already being conditionally awarded a franchise in 2008.

The playoff format, which I drastically changed in my previous scenario, would stay the same way that it is currently constituted. Three teams from each division would make the playoffs, with the top seed in each division receiving a bye.

This scenario seems the most likely for a number of reasons. One, Ottawa is getting another team. That is happening sooner rather than later. Depending on the success of the Touchdown Atlantic game in September, Moncton or Halifax could have a team within the next 5-10 years.

But this option is more likely based on what is unlikely in my scenario, namely London getting a team. As much as it pains me to say it, the weak link, at least financially, in the CFL is Southern Ontario. The Argos and Tiger-Cats have trouble attracting fans and are consistently losing money. There are two reason I can think of as to why this occurs. First, the teams haven't been very good. The Argos have the worst combined record the past two seasons (winning a total of 7 games), and the Cats have been one of the worst teams in the CFL for the past decade. The 2009 season showed that the Cats might be back to being competitive, but how long that will last is anyone's guess. Second, and this strictly deals with Toronto, the CFL is seen as "small time" compared to the NFL. People in Toronto harbour delusions of grandeur that they will one day have an NFL franchise. It's a pipe dream, but one that the people in Toronto won't give up. These are the factors that make me believe that putting another team in Southern Ontario is unlikely. Why split an already small audience even further?

With all that said, it looks like the best we can all hope for is a 10-team league, which would be great, just not perfect.

The one wild card in all this Quebec City. The province of Quebec is a hotbed for football right now. Laval University and the University of Montreal have great football programs. The Alouettes, who play at Percival Molson Stadium on the campus of McGill University, consistently sell it out. Striking while the iron is hot and getting a team in the provincial capital of Quebec seems like a no-brainer. I wouldn't be surprised if one day a team is playing in Quebec City.

Would moving to an 11-team league force the CFL to consider expanding to one other location to even out the numbers? For years the CFL had 9 teams, so 11 wouldn't be weird by CFL standards, but I hope that looking for another possible place to play, to get the teams to an even 12, would be in the cards. Maybe, just maybe, my dream scenario will play out one day.

What are your thoughts? Do you enjoy the 8-team league? Are you opposed to any expansion? Do you have a place in Canada that you think would be better than the places I have proposed? Let me hear what you think.


  1. It's funny cause I agree a lot with you on your black out stance and the "lost generation theory". A market like the GTA or golden horsshoe should support 4 teams. Imagine a Toronto, Hamilton, Kitchener (waterloo)and Durham or York team.

    Now talking reality. I would like to see a 11 or 12 team league. Ottawa, Quebec City would be my first two choices. (market size, and corporate money) Moncton would be my top maritime choice for two reasons. One they have a much better civic government, two Moncton is in the centre of Saint John, Halifax, Charlottetown etc. and could be considered a regional team ala Saskachewan. As for the 12th team it would have to be out west. Probaly Victoria or Kelowna.


    great reads,

    Argo fan UGO

  2. 10 teams and get rid of the crossover!!



    Ideal league.

  3. east
    st johns
    quebec city