Eski­mos left out in the cold

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - SPORTS - GRE­GORY STRONG

TORONTO — The fate of a fifth­place team was not top of mind when the CFL cre­ated its cross­over rule more than two decades ago. It’s some­thing the league may want to con­sider for the fu­ture.

The rule gives a fourth-place team a cross­over play­off spot when the club fin­ishes with more points than the third-place team in the other divi­sion. It hap­pened again this year when the B.C. Lions (9-9) fin­ished with a bet­ter record than the 5-13 Mon­treal Alou­ettes, who were third in the East.

How­ever, for the first time in the rule’s his­tory, the Ed­mon­ton Eski­mos — who were at the bot­tom of the five-team West at 9-9 — missed the play­offs de­spite own­ing a bet­ter record than both the Alou­ettes and the East’s sec­ond-place team, the 8-10 Hamil­ton Tiger-Cats.

Un­for­tu­nately for the Eski­mos, there is no pro­vi­sion for when the five teams in the West have bet­ter records than all but the first-place team in the East. As a re­sult, Ed­mon­ton will be on the out­side look­ing in when the post-sea­son kicks off this week­end.

“I feel like we’re as good as any­body, I re­ally do,” Eski­mos head coach Ja­son Maas said at his sea­son-end­ing avail­abil­ity. “I know our record doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily prove that, ex­cept that there are two play­offs teams with the same record and a lesser record in the play­offs right now.”

It’s un­clear whether the is­sue will be ex­plored in the off-sea­son. CFL com­mis­sioner Randy Am­brosie was not im­me­di­ately avail­able for com­ment.

This is the fourth time the cross­over has been needed in the last five years.

Since the rule made its de­but in 1996, there have been 10 sea­sons where the West has had five teams and this unique sce­nario has even been pos­si­ble. The Win­nipeg Blue Bombers have had to move back to the East at times to fill va­can­cies when Ot­tawa hasn’t had a team in the league.

It can be tough to en­sure play­off bal­ance in a nine-team league, es­pe­cially in a year when one divi­sion is far su­pe­rior to the other. The cross­over rule was im­ple­mented to try to max­i­mize mean­ing­ful and com­pet­i­tive games down the stretch and to re­ward the bet­ter teams with play­off spots.

“I love the way they’re do­ing it,” TSN broadcaster and for­mer CFL star Milt Ste­gall said from At­lanta. “I think the pros out­weigh the cons, it adds some in­trigue.”

The West Divi­sion, led by the 13-5 Cal­gary Stam­ped­ers, did not have a club with a los­ing record while the four-team East had just one squad — the 11-7 Ot­tawa Red­blacks — fin­ish above the .500 mark. Hamil­ton, Mon­treal and the 4-14 Toronto Arg­onauts were all well be­hind.

The Lions and Eski­mos both fin­ished with 18 points, but B.C. won the sea­son se­ries over Ed­mon­ton to se­cure the fi­nal West play­off spot.

Pro­po­nents of adding a fifth play­off team out of the West could ar­gue the Red­blacks should qual­ify out of the East and that all five West clubs should be re­warded for their records. In such a sce­nario, divi­sional win­ners could get reg­u­lar first-round byes but the No. 2 team would host the No. 5 club in the West while the No. 3 team wel­comes the fourth-place side.

Such a change would also elim­i­nate a reg­u­lar gripe about the cross­over rule: that the fourth-place team has to travel for the divi­sion semi­fi­nal even if that club owns a bet­ter record than its op­po­nent.

Re­cent his­tory sug­gests that reg­u­lar-sea­son records don’t seem to mat­ter that much once the play­offs be­gin. The Arg­onauts won the Grey Cup last fall af­ter a 9-9 cam­paign while the Red­blacks took the 2016 ti­tle af­ter an 8-9-1 reg­u­lar sea­son.

This week’s West semi­fi­nal pits the 12-6 Saskatchewan Roughrid­ers against the vis­it­ing Blue Bombers (10-8). The East and West Fi­nals are set for Nov. 18 and the Grey Cup goes Nov. 25 at Ed­mon­ton’s Com­mon­wealth Sta­dium.

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

B.C. Lions de­fen­sive tackle Davon Cole­man tries to stop Ed­mon­ton Eski­mos quar­ter­back Mike Reilly from mak­ing a throw dur­ing an Oct. 19 game in Van­cou­ver.

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