Canadian Football League History

The Canadian Football League (CFL; French: Ligue canadienne de football) is a professional league located entirely in Canada that plays Canadian football. It is considered to be the highest level of play in Canadian football. The league's top trophy, the Grey Cup, was donated by Governor General Earl Grey in 1909 to the team winning the Senior Amateur Football Championship of Canada. Both the trophy and the championship game have become known as the Grey Cup. Since 1954, when the Ontario Rugby Football Union stopped challenging for the Grey Cup, the trophy has been awarded only to professional teams with the championship generally being an East vs. West competition. This is also the year the British Columbia Lions started play as the ninth professional team, so although the CFL was not technically founded until the late 1950's, 1954 is often referred to as the start of the "modern era" of Canadian professional football. It is also considered to be the year the CFL was founded in substance if not in name. The game is very similar to American football but there are several major rule differences.


Early history

The first Canadian football teams played under the auspices of the Canadian Rugby Football Union (CRFU), founded in 1884. The CRFU was an umbrella organization that several leagues were part of. From the 1930s to the 1950s the two senior leagues of the CRFU (the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union and the Western Interprovincial Football Union) gradually evolved from amateur to professional leagues. They found they had less and less in common with the amateur leagues and consequently, in 1956, they left the CRFU and formed a new umbrella organization, the Canadian Football Council. It was renamed the Canadian Football League in 1958. Initially, there was no interdivisional play between eastern and western teams except at the Grey Cup final. Limited interlocking play was introduced in 1961 and by 1981 there was a full interlocking schedule of 16 games a season.

The league remained stable with nine franchises from its inception until 1982 when the Montreal Alouettes folded and were subsequently replaced the same year by a new franchise named the Concordes. In 1986 the Concordes were renamed the Alouettes to attract more fan support, but the team folded the next year.

Attempts at expansion into the United States

In 1993 the league admitted its first U.S. franchise, adding the Sacramento Gold Miners in an attempt to broaden Canadian football's popular appeal and boost league revenues. Spearheading the efforts were two former World League of American Football owners, Fred Anderson and Larry J. Benson, who would each receive a franchise. While Benson's team, the San Antonio Texans, would not play a single down, the Gold Miners would see action, finishing a respectable 6-12 (but remaining at the bottom of the West Division).
The following year saw three more American CFL teams as part of a plan that would see the CFL expand to 20 teams, ten in Canada and ten in the United States. The Baltimore CFL Colts, a name that tried to evoke the spirit of a National Football League team that had since moved to Indianapolis (and were forced to change their name to the Stallions after a long legal battle) were the most successful of any American CFL team, having finished second in the East and making it to the Grey Cup Finals (becoming the first American team to play for the Grey Cup). On the other side of the equation were the Las Vegas Posse, who were so unsuccessful due to fan apathy that their final home game had to be moved to Edmonton. The Shreveport Pirates were the other new team.

The 1995 season saw the loss of the Posse and the move of the Gold Miners to San Antonio, while the Birmingham Barracudas and Memphis Mad Dogs were added. However, fan interest in Canadian football, with the possible exception of the Stallions (largely because the Stallions were a top team), was sparse at best, with fans being driven away to see American college football or the NFL late in the season. At the end of the year, which saw the Stallions become the first American team to win the Grey Cup, all but the Stallions and the San Antonio Texans folded due to financial difficulties. The Stallions would later move to Montreal (renamed the Alouettes) when the NFL announced that a new team was to be added in Baltimore, and owner Jim Speros could not see the Stallions remaining there for long. The Texans would later fold with a similar explanation.

After three seasons of American teams, the CFL returned to an all-Canadian format in 1996 with nine teams; however, the Ottawa Rough Riders folded following the season. In 2002 the league expanded back to nine teams with the Ottawa Renegades. After Ford Field was opened in Detroit, there was a small amount of talk about using the Detroit Lions of the NFL's former home, the Pontiac Silverdome, for a CFL team. Detroit, Michigan is right next to Windsor, Ontario, and this franchise could possibly have been referred to as the CFL franchise from Windsor, or a joint Detroit/Windsor franchise, but would play in Detroit.

Major League Debate

The CFL is considered to be a major league by many Canadians, often placing it second behind the National Hockey League. However, in other parts of North America it is viewed as a minor league to the National Football League, due to the similar (but distinct) gridiron codes.

Due to the disparity between the CFL and NFL's income, the CFL teams are forced to assemble their roster from a smaller talent pool that consists of many players who, while they may have been stars in college (such as Pinball Clemons and Damon Allen), they were unable to show their skills in the NFL because of the NFL's "bias" towards small players. In the days when sports teams were financed almost entirely by ticket sales the two leagues were on equal footing and the CFL could sign top U.S. college football stars such as Johnny Rodgers and Joe Theismann. In fact, during the 1950's and 1960's exhibition games were played between CFL and NFL teams using a mixture of rules. The last such exhibition game saw the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats defeat the NFL's Buffalo Bills. However, since the 1970s the advent of television revenue has allowed the NFL to far outspend the CFL. The CFL also sets a limit on the number of non-Canadian born players on Canadian teams.

Although ice hockey is currently Canada's most popular sport, the CFL is highly popular in Quebec and west of Ontario, and its franchises there enjoy a greater level of support than Ontario teams. However, since the 2004 season, both Toronto and Hamilton have seen a resurgence in attendence. The Edmonton Eskimos regularly boast the league's highest average attendance, drawing about 40,000 people per game. Football has been gaining in popularity in Quebec with the recent success of the Alouettes, and Quebec university football teams now lead the country in attendance and on the field, with Laval University and the University of Montreal, and Concordia consistently in the top ten in the country. In Southern Ontario, the CFL is now recovering from the bankruptcy that plagued the Toronto and Hamilton teams in the 2003 season. Both teams have improved their attendance figures dramatically since the 2003 season. The league is currently looking to add a tenth team in Atlantic Canada or Quebec City. Quebec City and Halifax have recently hosted CFL exhibition games, both of which sold out quickly. Moncton is expected to host a game next season.


League training camps open in May, with regular season games beginning by late June and finishing by early November. The current season format has each team playing 18 games over this 20 week span (thus giving each team at least 2 bye weeks, while one team must play 2 games in one week at some point during the schedule, because of the odd number of teams). Teams are divided into 2 divisions, with 4 teams in the East and 5 in the West. Each team plays a home game and an away game against every other team, with 2 additional games versus divisional rivals.

The principal television broadcaster is TSN, with some games also shown on CBC and RDS within Canada, and a variety of regional networks in the U.S. Games are typically scheduled for Thursday to Saturday evenings during June, July and August, but switch to more Saturday and Sunday afternoon games during September and October. TSN has also created a tradition of at least one Friday night game each week.
Another fixture in the CFL season is the Labour Day Classic, played over the course of the Labour Day weekend (typically Week 10 in the regular season), where the matchups for three of the games in the week have always remained the same year after year. The week after also sees matchups that remain the same between years (most notably the Calgary-Edmonton rematch at Commonwealth Stadium). A lesser known fixture in the CFL season is the Thanksgiving Day Classic, played over Thanksgiving Day. Unlike the Labour Day games, however, the matchups are not always the same each year.

The playoffs begin in November. After the regular season, the top team from each division has an automatic berth to the Division Finals, and the second place team has an automatic berth in the Division Semifinals. The third place team from each division will face the second place team, unless the fourth place team from the opposite division finishes with a better record (this provision is known as the crossover rule). The two division champions then face each other in the Grey Cup, which is held on the 3rd or 4th Sunday of November.
Although the crossover rule implies that it is possible for two teams in the same division to play for the Grey Cup, no team that has crossed over has gone past the Division Semifinals.