Will the CFL be able to confirm a conditional 10th franchise in Atlantic Canada before the end of this season?
There is cautious optimism in the CFL head office. “I think they are on the right track,” commissioner Randy Ambrosie said of Maritime Football Ltd. proponents Bruce Bowser, Gary Drummond and Anthony LeBlanc. “Can they get over the goal line? I think it’s a million-dollar question and we’ll only know when we know.” He expects to know by Grey Cup week in Edmonton.
Progress is being made. Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold met with Ambrosie and LeBlanc last week to discuss possible roles for the New Brunswick city, including hosting training camp, pre-season and regular season games at Moncton Stadium while a permanent venue is built in Halifax. LeBlanc has mentioned a 25,000-seater could cost $200 million, and Halifax mayor Mike Savage said private investment has to lead the way.
Ambrosie said the Ottawa model — with the stadium at the centre of a revenue-generating football district — is a good one and should be followed.
“You don’t build a stadium, you build an entire ecosystem. You build a stadium and you build a development around the stadium because people are no longer just going to games,” Ambrosie said. “The calculus of their use of their time is not a ‘transport me to a game and then home from a game.’ It’s ‘take me for lunch and maybe some shopping and then I’ll go to a game and then after I’ll go for a drink or dessert and then I’ll go home.’”
Will Johnny Manziel make Hamilton the most interesting team to watch, on and off the field, in the CFL this season?
In short, hell yes. It has already happened. The training-camp eve arrival of Johnny Football made an immediate impact on jersey sales and media attention in The Hammer. It stands to reason that he will also drive attendance at Tim Hortons Field for the entire year, so thick with drama is his backstory.
And there is no doubt that he has opened the door to exposure on ESPN and other large American media platforms.
The first pre-season game in which he played drew 300,000 Canadians to TSN’s broadcast, according to the overnights. That’s well beyond the norm for a Hamilton-Toronto pre-season tilt.
Whether the former Heisman Trophy winner plays regularly or not, whether he starts or not, whether the Tabbies win or lose, Manziel is poised to become a perennial story engine.
If Hamilton erases last year’s losing ways and makes winning a weekly habit, perhaps he gets some regular garbage time in relief of Jeremiah Masoli. If the Cats keep losing, the most popular man with the fans of a struggling football team is always the backup quarterback. And yes, as with any other backup QB, he’s only one injury away from becoming the starter at any point in time.
Will the new ball have an impact on offence?
It seems unlikely. Informal Postmedia polling of several quarterbacks, kickers and receivers suggests the new ball is just like the old ball, with a slight variation on the tack, or feel of the leather.
“I took a couple home in the off-season, got the tack off them, and once you get it worked in, it’s pretty similar to the old ball,” said B.C. pivot Jonathon Jennings.
Calgary’s gunslinging Bo Levi Mitchell believes the new ball holds its shape, once it’s worked in, slightly better than the previous iteration. “And I think it gets there a little bit faster,” he said.
Quarterbacks were generally disappointed that the one change they proposed — a reduction in the thickness of the laces to more of a sleeker, NFL-like profile — was not instituted.
“It always spins better, to me, without the fat laces on there,” said Mitchell.
So why did the CFL change its ball, but not the laces, if nobody was going to notice much of a difference?
“I don’t think there’s any difference in the cost,” said Ambrosie. “I do know our guys tested the two balls. We had a number of quarterbacks throw them, and to a person they felt that this was the better ball for them. It just made it not a complicated decision.”
Will the elimination of a coach’s challenge on illegal contact affect the pace of play in a positive way?
Of course. But how much? There were 127 coaches’ challenges during the 2017 CFL season. Forty of those, fully 31 per cent, came in response to a call or request for a call of illegal contact on a receiver. So that’s significant.
However, defensive pass interference made up the lion’s share of requests for video review, 86 of them, for 68 per cent.
The CFL created a monster by allowing coaches to question illegal contact. Viewers hated the interruption, so any move to limit the number of challenges is a good one.
In 2017, Edmonton challenged the most calls or non-calls, 19, and was successful just 47 per cent of the time. Toronto challenged the fewest, at 10, and was successful half the time. The teams with the highest rate of success on challenges were Winnipeg at 69 per cent and Calgary at 67 per cent.
What are the most important CBA issues to be negotiated by the CFL and the CFL Players Association to get a new agreement done?
In an email to Postmedia, CFLPA executive director Brian Ramsay said there is “no timeline on negotiating a fair agreement” but believes both sides are trying to get it done before expiration of the current pact.
“Overall, we expect that growth (on all levels including business and the game itself) as well as sustainability of Canadian football will be a priority for everyone,” Ramsay said.
Ambrosie echoed that sentiment and said the league has shown its full business plan to the CFLPA’s executive team. He also stressed it’s important that the league and players act together to grow revenues. “The way for the players to win is for the league to grow,” he said.
It appears that the player safety file will also be integral to a new deal, according to this quote from Ramsay: “The players continue to strive for equal representation regarding player safety and endeavour to change the current process where they have to bargain with ownership for rule changes affecting player health and safety.”
Will the move away from Sunday games — there are only three all season — and the addition of Saturday triple-headers affect TSN ratings?
In a small way. There was just one triple-header last year, and basically none in the decade previous to that. TSN vice-president and executive producer Paul Graham said by scheduling four triple-headers in 2018 the network was cooperating with the league and its desire to put bums in seats in cities like Edmonton and Winnipeg that prefer afternoon tilts.
“We certainly would prefer more prime time nights, again for obvious reasons,” he said, referring to a ratings boost at night over daytime games. “But at the same time we understand the league needs to cater to a bunch of groups, families and kids and what have you. There are certain markets that prefer afternoon games. Triple-headers cover all the bases. It allows some teams to get more of a family presence in the afternoon and it still maintains a prime time audience for us at night.
“The other experiment with it, if you will, is that it really is us saying, ‘hey, if you’re a fan of the CFL, we’re going to give you nine hours of really great football back to back to back.’ I’m particularly interested to see how that turns out.”
Edmonton hosts three games as part of triple-header Saturday action, while there are two each in B.C., Toronto and Winnipeg and one each in Ottawa, Calgary and Hamilton.
Is Montreal GM Kavis Reed on the hottest seat in the CFL?
In an informal poll of Postmedia football writers, most chose Reed as the coach or GM with the brightest spotlight on him. The Alouettes gave up the most points (580), net offence (408 yards per game), first downs (448) and rushing yards (120.5 per game) in 2017 and wound up 3-15, dead last in the league.
Montreal parted ways with quarterback Darian Durant in the off-season, before having to pay him a sizeable bonus, but failed to adequately replace him. Former NFLer Josh Freeman was unimpressive in camp and suddenly retired, leaving Drew Willy and Matt Shiltz to fight for the role of starter.
Reed’s handling — some would say mishandling — of the quarterback position leaves him open to criticism. He has made some quality additions to the defence, where cornerback Tommie Campbell and rush end Jamaal Westerman should bolster the troops. Reed also hired a head coach with zero CFL experience in Mike Sherman. The former Green Bay Packers bench boss will also be on a pretty short leash.
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