By: Andrew Bucholtz
The CFL is a fascinating league, and those who play in it are remarkable people. Whether Canadian or American, arriving from Canadian schools, small American schools, traditional NCAA powerhouses, stints with NFL teams or even backgrounds in other sports, they all come together to produce the CFL product we see. All of those players have their own stories, and those stories deserve to be told. I’m excited to announce that I’ll be working with the CFLPA in the coming weeks to tell some of those stories, and to cover the CFL the way it deserves to be covered, from big-picture issues to individual players to the details of games and plays.
I’ve long held a passion for the CFL, and a passion for writing about it. I’ve followed the league closely for most of my life, and covered the CFL for Yahoo Sports Canada from 2010 through 2016, reporting and writing on everything from CBA negotiations to concussion lawsuits to halftime shows and highlights. I’ve also worked for sports media site Awful Announcing from 2012 through the present, so I’m well-versed in covering the sports media landscape, which is an important part of CFL coverage in this day and age. And I’m thrilled to again have a regular forum to cover the CFL, as there’s so much going on with the league that deserves attention.
This is a crucial period for the CFL, and one where the league and its players face issues on a multitude of fronts. The CFL has landed the most lucrative broadcast deal in its history, providing more stability and income to clubs on that front than we’ve ever seen. But there are questions about other areas of the balance sheets, particularly attendance, and there are questions how the league’s revenue is split, both between its clubs and with its players.
There have been massive moves at the top this offseason, particularly with the CFL announcing an imminent parting of the ways with commissioner Jeffrey Orridge after just two years. That decision, and the eventual decision on who will replace Orridge, will have huge impacts on the future direction of this league. Beyond that, there have been major moves in Edmonton, where general manager Ed Hervey was fired in a reported dispute over access, and in Toronto, where Jim Popp and Marc Trestman have been brought in very late in the offseason in hopes of rekindling the success they found in Montreal. 2017 is going to be a year of change for the CFL, and it’s one that deserves close coverage.
It’s an excellent time to be a CFL fan, as there’s something to be excited about for everyone. Montreal fans can hope Darian Durant provides the quarterback play they need and Ernest Jackson gives them a big-play receiver, while Toronto fans have a slew of interesting new defensive players, from Alan-Michael Cash to Johnny Sears to Winston Venable. Hamilton’s brought in impressive defensive back Abdul Kanneh, while the defending Grey Cup champion Redblacks will be transitioning from Henry Burris to Trevor Harris at quarterback, and have some intriguing new targets in Kenny Shaw and Diontae Spencer.
Out West, the Saskatchewan Roughriders will be looking for a big improvement in Chris Jones’ second season at the helm, and new quarterback signing Vince Young has certainly drawn attention thanks to his NCAA and NFL resume. In fact, their whole current quarterback roster is fascinating, with Young, Kevin Glenn, Bryan Bennett, G.J. Kinne and Brandon Bridge all in the mix. Whoever winds up starting will have big-name new targets in Chad Owens and Bakari Grant, plus an important new protector in Derek Dennis.
It’s an interesting year for Calgary, as they put up a dominant 15-2-1 regular season campaign, but came up just short in the Grey Cup. There will be lots of motivation for the Stampeders, who return most of the core of that team, and new faces like Bryan Hall may help. In Winnipeg, the Blue Bombers will be looking to build on the impressive 11-7 mark they posted last year, and new defensive linemen Drake Nevis and Corvey Irvin may boost their pass rush. The B.C. Lions continue to grow around quarterback Jon Jennings, and they gave him a great new target in Chris Williams. And Edmonton found a lot of potential impact players in free agency, from Cory Greenwood to Aston Whiteside; the key question there may be how their plans to use those players change now that Hervey’s gone.
There are plenty of league-wide storylines to watch, too. The ongoing dispute over coverage of players’ rehabilitation will be a crucial one, as will potential developments in the concussion lawsuits against the CFL. As mentioned above, the economics are well worth watching; we know the amount of TV money coming in, and we can keep an eye on other involved elements, from coaching salaries to gate revenues. On the television front, where will ratings go this year, and will there be more pushes to mic up players and coaches? And perhaps most importantly, who will the board of governors target as the new commissioner, and what priorities will they look for there? All of these and other storylines deserve detailed coverage, and I hope to provide that weekly at CFLPA.com this year.