The Canadian Football League is doing a great job remaining a topic of conversation even though it won’t play another game again for six months.
The 2018 season ended on November 25 with the Calgary Stampeders defeating the Ottawa Redblacks, 27-16, in the Grey Cup.
But there has been all sorts of major news off the field.
The implementation of a non-player football operations cap has forced some teams to trim their coaching staffs (and prompted some coaches, like Hamilton defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville, to leave for “personal reasons”).
The cap is in place so that more money can be freed up to increase player pay and help prevent possible defections to the Alliance of American Football, which begins play in February. The CFL’s collective bargaining agreement expires in mid-May and players want an increase in their salary cap and league minimum salary.
Currently the league minimum is $54,000, and with the AAF (and, coming in 2020, the new XFL) promising salaries of roughly $75,000 for a 10-game season, the threat of losing players to upstart leagues is real.
New head coaches have taken over at British Columbia (DeVone Claybrooks), Hamilton (Orlando Steinauer), and Toronto (Corey Chamblin), meaning a third of the league’s teams are under new leadership.
Arguably the biggest news, of course, is that a 10th franchise is almost a done deal: it looks like football fans in Halifax, Nova Scotia, will be cheering for the Atlantic Schooners as soon as 2021.
That’ll give the CFL a coast-to-coast wingspan.
However, the working relationship the CFL has entered into with a Mexican tackle football league is also potentially significant. And even though that announcement is lost in the spotlight somewhat, it intrigues me a bit.
Starting in 2019, the Liga de Futbol Americano Profesional (LFA) will join the Canadian league in a partnership designed to develop players.
“We started this conversation about what we could do to grow the game of football in Canada and in Mexico,” CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said during his annual state of the league news conference. “We could work with our players to welcome the best players from Mexico into the CFL and then find opportunities for Canadian players; maybe those that are coming out of college or junior that aren’t quite ready yet, to give them the opportunity to go and play professional football in Mexico, (to see) if we could share resources and learn from one another.”
Hmmm … a CFL feeder league in Mexico?
Now that would be interesting.
“We have a lot to learn from a league that is about to celebrate the 106th edition of its championship,” LFA commissioner Alejandro Jaimes said before the Calgary-Ottawa clash. “And we are confident that there is much we can offer.”
Canadian college players have limited options. The highest level of university ball there is the 27-school U Sport, which is divided into four conferences.
A few stars wind up in the National Football League, but otherwise those who don’t get drafted and signed by CFL teams are often out of luck. Now a few more might have a chance to hone their craft further down the continent.
Conversely, there is a tentative plan to have at least one Mexican player on each CFL roster every season.
The CFL and LFA are planning a CFL scouting combine for LFA players in Mexico in January, ahead of the Mexican league’s spring start.
Currently the LFA has eight teams in two conferences, and is best described as semi-pro. Still, its games are broadcast on television and has developed a strong following. It’s a growing league.
“We’ve got some of the best football coaches in the world and if we could get our football coaches interacting with our partners in Mexico that would be very positive,” Ambrosie said.
This partnership is expected to lead to CFL games being played in Mexico, although I doubt you’ll ever see the league actually place franchises there.
Expansion south of the border failed once, and expansion even further south seems unlikely.
Still, Ambrosie says perhaps the time will come when the LFA might be on equal footing with their Canadian counterparts.
“Someday, teams from the LFA could compete with their CFL counterparts,” he said. “But we have a lot of work to do, and learn first. This is a wonderful opportunity to develop a plan that we can use to create positive alliances with more leagues, in more than 30 countries where this sport is practiced.”
I think best-case scenario would be an LFA that is one day shaped in the image of the CFL, which could result in exhibition games.
An even more daring proposal would be to have the LFA expand into the United States and create a Mexican-American Football League, although admittedly that’s just wishful thinking on my part.
I’ve already stated my case for the American League of Canadian Football in an earlier column.
I’m glad the CFL continues to try and grow its game. Stepping over the U.S. to put a footprint in Mexico is bold, but it opens up a whole new world of possibilities.