Before I even begin to express my thoughts of this off-season and the coming season, my congratulations and praise to the Saskatchewan Roughriders for winning the 101st Grey Cup and to the province of Saskatchewan and city of Regina for putting on an excellent show and experience.
One of the best aspects of my job, maybe the best, is the experiences; the interactions with people you never forget. Whether it is meeting Tom Hanks briefly (class act) or the genuine enthusiasm and interaction of Riders and Ticats fans, I am confident I can speak for all that covered the game in saying you made us feel much more important and appreciated than we deserve. I sincerely hope the moment the new stadium is ready to roll the “Big Game" goes back to Regina with no hesitation.
Overall this off-season has been a good and productive one. With new stadiums in Ottawa and Hamilton, future stadiums in Regina and Toronto, the most important aspects of the game – in-stadium fan experience and attendance – are progressing, not regressing. Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton is taking shape. The season ticket base is just about maxed out and the luxury boxes are all sold.
I have yet to visit the stadium in Ottawa but I have a high level of confidence in the people running the Redblacks and what they are doing to make this organization viable. It's very important to have a CFL team in Ottawa for one big reason: it is our nation's capital and will continue to enhance pride and patriotism in ourselves and our country.
With Toronto, at the risk of sounding like a cheerleader, BMO Field would be perfect. I have walked around the stadium three or four times and the sight lines, angles, and proximity to the field are exceptional. It's basically on the same location as the old Exhibition Stadium and that location is excellent; not as congested as the Rogers Centre location and probably not as expensive. I don't dislike the Rogers Centre, at one time it was one of the most unique structures in North America, but BMO fits what is needed: more intimacy and less immensity. Trust me when I say this, it's perfect!
In on-field related issues, I like the challenge system as it relates to pass interference; the NFL will watch closely how it is executed and learn. But I also have concerns with flow of the game. Too many stops and starts in football make the game boring; I hate to say that but it is the truth.
This is a pretty bold, precedent-setting move by the league. May I suggest one more? Eliminate the huddle from football with the exception of the beginning of a drive. Football players are pretty bright, they can run an entire offence without talking about it in detail after each play. Between TV timeouts, injuries, and challenges, the game is too long, especially NCAA football, which now runs anywhere from 3.5 hours to four. That is too much.
How do you create a rule to keep the game flowing? Easy. Once a play is over, the offence must go back to the original position they began the play from, then the quarterback directs the play and players. Time constraints stay the same and every player that needs an ear piece can use one to offset the noise. The quarterback becomes a true quarterback, not an order taker.
Realistic? I believe so. The entertainment value of the game would explode as there would be constant focus from the fans due to constant motion and action. It may be a difficult sell but as a viewer, anytime a team goes no huddle I regain and intensify my interest. Again the league could set a new standard of entertainment for the benefit of the paying public. They are, after all the most important revenue generators.
Speaking of revenue, the Players Association wants a new, bigger and better deal. As a former player, I want the present players to earn more. CFL players are the most underpaid athletes in a combat sport I know. The league is not at a point where an increase can be so significant that it satisfies the desires of all. It is still a lean business that has developed stability, but not prosperity. There will be an increase for players, the amount is unknown.
May I suggest this though, as a life lesson learned? It is not so much how much you make as it is how much you have and what you do with it. With an increase in revenue, the best thing the league and Players Association can do is get it out of the hands of the players to control spontaneous purchases. We have all heard the mind-numbing stories of athletes that make a lot yet have very little. And the truth is they have no one to blame but themselves. Hard pill to swallow. There will be more money, but making the money truly work so you can satisfy both your desires for security and adventure in life is critical.
There is nothing more important in the CFL than the quality of the play and the player. And there should be nothing more important to that player than when his playing days are over he has physical, financial evidence he played.
I don't know about you, but this was the most brutal winter I have encountered in a long time. I heard it was the coldest in Manitoba in 100 years. I am looking forward to watching a game without seeing my breath. Fall will come soon enough, but spring football sounds good to me!