• Marshall Ferguson

Separating Fact From Fiction on CFL/XFL Discussions

Let me start by saying I have nothing but respect for Sportsnet's Stephen Brunt. He's a voice of reason in the overwhelming majority of Canadian sporting discussions that I sit up and listen closely to every single time his voice graces my TV or radio.

Earlier this week Tim Micallef - another gem of a human - had Brunt on his new Tim & Friends show to discuss the XFL/CFL talks leading to this quote from Brunt featured in a blog post online.

The ratio plays a fundamental role in Canadian football promotion and development. It has been integral to everything that makes the CFL more than a league hosted in Canada as discussed in the March 17 episode of 'The Breakdown'.

Dismissing the ratio ignores the foundation and future of the CFL. Brunt's line of thinking suggests the Canadian component of the league is irrelevant, pinning the financial struggles of the league on their uniquely Canadian traits. Do we apply that idea to other industries such as restaurants, bars, and small businesses that are proud to be Canadian owned? No. We don't criticize businesses for being too Canadian if they fail.

If anything, the Canadian part of a brand helps create value because it creates a differentiator that consumers gravitate towards. One of the most popular beer brands in the country is simply called "Canadian." Buying local is something people here take pride in.

Don't get me wrong: I understand there are people who won't or don't care about the ratio. But I do think scapegoating the ratio and the other uniquely Canadian parts of our game as the very issues holding the sport back is an oversimplification.

Brunt continued,

There's a lot here, so let's refute the take with some bullet points:

* Those who have played three downs are aware of its benefits (See June Jones from 'The Eh Block' Monday).

* What makes the NFL fun is exactly what three down football creates. Three down football promotes passing numbers, increases offence and creates greater return possibilities - some of the traits of recent NFL football that fans are drawn to.

* Patrick Mahomes is a generational QB who isn't signing with an XFL franchise, ever.

* No one has ever asked someone to say the CFL is more exciting than Patrick Mahomes. That's a strawman argument.

That last line is from the author of the article, and it's just not true. There are flavours of similarity to the naked eye, but the games remain unique in important ways.

Passing is generally perceived as the excitement-generating play in any style of football. If that's the "fun" you're looking for, the NFL - and it's beloved Chiefs - still lag behind CFL standards.

The Chiefs passed on 62.5% of snaps in 2020 (5th in the NFL) while all NFL teams averaged a pass play call on 58.1% of plays.

In the CFL? The 5th most aggressive passing team was Hamilton at 67.1% while all CFL teams averaged a pass play call on 67.4% of snaps, a +9.3% difference from the NFL.

In fact, stacking 2019 CFL and 2020 NFL pass play call percentages together results in CFL teams claiming eight of the top ten slots, with only Winnipeg lagging far behind (hi Streveler).

Maybe the writer was talking about the CFL's spreading off the field with receivers being utilized increasingly by NFL teams.

While this is true about three receiver sets noted above via SharpFootball.com, take a look at the four and five receiver set frequency, a staple of every CFL offence for decades.

Four receiver sets with a single back in 2020 equated to 1% (329) of all snaps taken by 32 teams over a full season. Five receiver sets were used only 90 times in the NFL all year, a number below what you see in any single CFL game.

All of this is to say: The CFL and NFL are different - and that's okay. Just like it's okay that the CFL and XFL are different.

Let's just hope it stays that way.


Marshall Ferguson is a former U SPORTS Quarterback, CFP Founder, Host & Director of Content. He is the voice of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, CFL.ca analyst and a fan of inside jokes, especially once he gets to be part of one.

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