An introduction to the Canadian Football League (CFL)

An introduction to the Canadian Football League (CFL)

The Canadian Football League was founded in January 1958, in Montreal. The current CFL Commissioner is Jeffrey Orridge who began his tenure in April 2015, Orridge is the 13th commissioner of the CFL and is the first-ever non-white chief executive of a major North American sports league.

There are nine teams split in to two divisions. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the Montreal Alouettes, the Ottawa Redblacks and the Toronto Argonauts are part of the East Division, with the BC (British Columbia) Lions, the Calgary Stampeders, the Edmonton Eskimos, the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers as part of the West Division.

The 2016 CFL season was the 63rd season of modern Canadian professional football. Officially, it was the 59th season of the league. Toronto hosted the 104th Grey Cup on November 27, which saw the Ottawa Redblacks pick up the championship for the first time.

Like the NFL, the CFL season runs to a similar structure. Their draft looks at players from universities, taking place in May and consists of seven rounds. The CFL Combine similar to the NFL Combine, precedes the draft. A junior player in the locale of a team may be claimed as a territorial exemption and sign with that team before beginning collegiate play. Teams maintain “negotiation lists” of players they wish to sign as free agents.

In the CFL, their pre-season consists of two games and a three-week exhibition in mid-June, an 18-game regular season which runs over 20 weeks from late June in to early November and then a six-team, three-week single elimination playoff tournament beginning in November and culminating in the Grey Cup championship in late November. Championship teams will play either two or three playoff games, including the Grey Cup game, depending on their standing at the end of the regular season. The division leaders at the end of the regular season receive byes in the first round of the playoffs.

Whilst there are some similarities in how to game is structured, there are also a large number of differences:

  • In the CFL, their field is both longer (110 yards vs. 100 yards) and wider, with the end zones deeper (20 yards vs. 10 yards).
  • The goal posts are set at the front of the end zone in CFL, whereas they’re on the back line in the NFL. This allows extra points being taken from the 5 in the CFL (vs. the 2.5 in the NFL), and makes it more likely that a missed field goal will be returned.
  • There are 12 men on the field for CFL, 11 for NFL. The extra guy on offense is a backfield position; on defense, it can be anything.
  • It’s 3 downs to gain 10 yards for a first down in the CFL; 4 downs for NFL, which because of the larger field, this tends to create a more pass-oriented game as the short running game isn’t as viable.
  • In the NFL, only a single offensive player can be moving when the ball is snapped, and the player may not be moving forward. In the CFL, any backs may be moving when the ball is snapped, and in any direction (i.e. WRs can get a running start, if timed right).
  • When a ball is fumbled out of bounds, in the NFL it goes to the last team with clear possession; in the CFL, it goes to the last team to touch it.
  • No fair catch rule in CFL; instead, no player except the kicker or a player behind the kicker can approach within 5 yards of the ball until the receiving team touches the ball.
  • Consistent with the game’s soccer/rugby roots, CFL retains the idea of an open-field kick in that any player can kick the ball at any time. Whereas the only kicks allowed in the NFL are to only be taken from behind the line of scrimmage.

The biggest gap between the CFL and NFL is the salary cap. In 2016, the salary cap in the CFL was $5.1 million, whereas the NFL had theirs set at a whopping $155 million.

So, what can we expect this coming season? In November 2016, CFL announced that Regina, Saskatchewan would be host to the first ever CFL Week from 20 – 26 March 2017, which is an event designed to engage fans and the media during the off-season and will start with the Western Regional Combine, which was previously hosted by Edmonton for the past four years. The CFL National Combine will take place from March 23 to March 25 and will showcase 2017 CFL Draft-eligible prospects. This will be the first time that the CFL Combine is held outside of Toronto. The CFL will also invite football teams from U Sports Canada West Universities Athletic Association in a skeleton football tournament as part of a football showcase.

The new season will kick off around 22 June 2017, with the schedule of games yet to be released. NFLGirlUK hopes to provide coverage across the full CFL season keeping fans up to date with the latest developments.

2 thoughts on “An introduction to the Canadian Football League (CFL)

  1. Fantastic piece! Really want to see sum cfl, can never catch it tho….

    Also, not aware there was so much diffrent to the NFL. Would really luv to see it in action now!!

  2. This is very good. The thing to add is that there is a requirement to have on the roster (and field) a certain number of “Canadian” players. Only a limited number of “internationals” or “imports” (almost always Americans) are allowed on the roster and on the field at any time. They predictably tend to be the players at the “skill” positions (QB, WR, CB, defensive line, etc.). Finding a Canadian player who excels at one of those positions is huge, because that frees up another position for an American player. This juggling of what is referred to as the “ratio” (i.e. of Canadians to internationals) is a huge part of the strategy of the game, both at the coaching and at the general manager levels. Also, the draft that you mention is of Canadians only. Americans are signed as free agents by the teams off of their “negotiation lists” (e.g. Vince Young had to be placed on the Saskatchewan negotiation list before they could sign him).

    Teams therefore don’t fight over American players very much, as only one team can sign any given player — there are so many thousands of potential U.S. college and ex-NFL players who could potentially play in the CFL that every team has a lot to choose from, so it is extremely competitive for Americans who want to play in the CFL. Because of the differences in the rules and the much larger field, the U.S. players who excel in the CFL (or who fail to excel) are not always the ones (in either case) that an American football fan would expect.

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