The debate over CFL football looks like an attempt to Americanize our game
Good news: The establishment by the Canadian Football League of an actual grown-up looking drug testing policy was long overdue.
Questionable news: The debate over the appearance of the CFL football — black stripes, no stripes, white stripes, painted stripes, stitched stripes — seems to reek suspiciously of an attempt to Americanize our game’s signature prolate spheroid.
Mysterious news: The announced formation of the NFL-CFL Officiating Development Program, in which a group of National Football League officials will work as part of CFL crews during pre-season and regular-season games in June and July, prior to the start of the NFL pre-season.
In return, several CFL officials will join the NFL’s Officiating Development Program (there’s always a frightful number of capital letters in these announcements) including attending NFL mini-camps and training camps, officiating pre-season games and studying with veteran NFL officials.
Now, make of this what you will.
A friend questions what kind of aircraft they’ll need to accommodate all the officials and their dogs in both directions, but that’s just cruel.
It could be progress. Could be that the semi-new CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge — having updated the league’s logo to a white shape meant to be a football with the pointy ends snipped off for reasons unknown — has some ideas to modernize the league, and good on him for not being too insecure to reach out for expertise.
My view is that any time you shake hands with the NFL, it’s not a bad idea to count your fingers afterward. That would be called a rule of thumb, so make sure you’ve still got at least one of those left, too.
It could be the old Canadian inferiority complex at work, I know, but there it is.
The NFL-CFL agreement on player movement between leagues is so lopsidedly in the NFL’s favour — we pick up their training camp castoffs, coach them up, and then the NFL takes the very best finished products back — it’s hard to call the CFL’s role anything but that of a minor league affiliate.
But then, it’s hardly an exaggeration to say that, in so many facets of life, we in Canada feel validated only once we have received the United States seal of approval.
This is why we are so unflatteringly proud when our actors and comedians and musicians hit the big time, as it were, south of the border.
It’s why, when Warren Moon was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, we said: ‘See? We had him first.’ Ditto Wayne Gretzky, who may have been lost forever as a Canadian resident but opened all the doors to hockey’s popularity in the southern half of the U.S. ( Which eventually led to no Canadian teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Discuss.)
It’s why Toronto has been whiffing the effluvia of the NFL for decades, begging to be admitted to the magical circle so that the taint of minor-leagueness that it always suspected had attached itself to the city due to the stubborn survival of the Argonauts might finally be rinsed away.
But now the Argos are moving into refurbished BMO Field with the promise of tailgating and atmosphere and just generally better days ahead.
And Orridge and the players association are comfortable enough to turn drug testing back over to the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) — the same outfit they fired last June because the lab’s scientific director, Dr. Christiane Ayotte, criticized the league’s outdated policy.
The CFL still won’t be compliant with World Anti Doping Agency standards and the wording of the new policy appears to leave a couple of fairly sizable loopholes through which, you may be sure, a few overinflated offenders will squeeze before the league gets around to anything like full disclosure.
But it’s something, just like the cultural exchange of zebras is something; we’re just not sure what.
Perhaps the officials will be able to share information on getting overruled by instant replay, on how to determine when a catch isn’t a catch (Hint: it’s never a catch in the NFL, where they have more cameras), and when hand-fighting crosses the line to become pass interference.
The five-yard buffer zone on kick returns, the yard off the ball, 12 men a side, three downs not four, the wide field, the 55-yard line — a lot doesn’t translate from one league to the other.
Or perhaps the NFL will just take the best we have, as they do with players.
But whether Canadian or American, football fans can all agree on one thing: concussions.
Make that two things: officiating could be better.
One day, hopefully before the Great Wall of Trump is finished, it will be.
Make Zebras Great Again. (Patent pending.)
Any time you shake hands with the NFL, it’s not a bad idea to count your fingers afterward.