Social media has been abuzz over what may lie ahead for the Canadian Football League following a report that the powers-that-be are expected to take a good hard look at the game during the offseason, including whether to opt for four downs.
Prior to the Grey Cup, TSN’s Farhan Lalji and Dave Naylor reported that all aspects of the CFL game will be closely reviewed and considered in the offseason, including the possibility of moving from three downs to four.
Their report was pre-empted by ongoing criticism of the speed of the game during the past season, or more precisely, the perception by some that there hasn’t been enough scoring. Those same critics assert that has been the case for the past few seasons.
While he didn’t mention the issue of three downs directly in his State of the League address before the big game, CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie did speak about how the league will put the magnifying glass on all aspects of the game.
“It’s a league that is ready to ask the right questions in order to understand where our challenges are and to look for solutions,” he said. “I think we have created momentum and we have to talk to our fans. What do they want from us? Do they want more scoring?”
Ambrosie said he thinks the CFL has made significant change over the past 12 to 24 months and that the introduction of its new business partner, Genius Sports, shows it’s ready to do what is necessary to grow its business and to live up to its full potential.
Talk about the CFL changing how it looks really started in earnest earlier this year when news emerged that Ambrosie had been discussing a possible merger with a revamped XFL. Originally, that startup league, the brainchild of professional wrestling entrepreneur Vince McMahon, went belly up after one season in 2001. A second crack at it in 2020 also failed. It has since been taken over by actor Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson who, together with his business partner Dany Garcia and the RedBird Capital consortium, plan to try another reboot in 2023.
During the discussions about a possible merger, it was suggested the CFL may consider going to four downs to make it more marketable in the US. The big selling point was that partnering with the XFL would make it a faster game. In the end, though, those discussions finished with both parties going back to the drawing board, however, chatter about a switch to four downs has persisted.
For the benefit of anyone who may be unaware, three downs are one of the most unique aspects of the game that make the CFL distinctly different from the NFL and its four downs.
What the CFL is keenly aware of is that interest in the NFL has been steadily increasing across Canada over the last few years while interest in the CFL has become somewhat stagnant, particularly among younger generations. According to sports analysts, that’s largely because of the glitz and glamour of the American game more than anything else.
So, as Ambrosie sees it, nothing is necessarily off the table when it comes to growing the CFL’s popularity.
“The things that we are talking about are things like do we need to make the game faster?” he said. “Broadly speaking, it’s how do we keep our game moving forward? How do we make it more entertaining?”
While discussions during this offseason, in which in Ambrosie’s words, “everything is on the table,” are set to cover a myriad of topics, he and the board of governors, as well as the CFLPA for that matter, will need to ensure that if changes are to be made, the game doesn’t become a mirror image of the NFL as that could likely be to the CFL’s eventual detriment.