Tait: Time to rethink the CFL's East-West format
Over the past few years, the disparity between the two divisions has been obvious, writes Ed Tait.
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There are certain Canadian Football League commandments that yours truly has long insisted remain carved in stone.
-Under no circumstances, for example, should the ol’ loop switch to American rules, as many have suggested over the years.
-The Grey Cup should be played on the last Sunday in November, even if those non-dome games means the players are shivering by heaters on the sidelines, fighting through fog and mud and wind and snow… or some sort of wacky combination of all of the above.
-And, as goofy as it is, under no circumstances should the "rouge" – the single point on missed field goals or kicks fielded in the end zone – be eliminated. There are just so many variables that come with the rouge that make our game unique.
Still, for as much as we preach some of the traditional aspects of this wonderfully quirky league, here’s one of the stone-tablet commandments this corner now believes should be busted up with a sledge hammer: the East and West Divisional formats absolutely have to go.
It’s a subject that has come up many times before, and was forever shot down by traditionalists. But on CJOB’s pre-game show Saturday night the idea was kicked around by the legendary Bob Irving, Doug Brown and myself and my opinion has now changed.
Now, just for the record, this isn’t a change of opinion that was made easily. I love this league and the many long-standing traditions that come with it, including the East-West Grey Cup.
But over the past few years, the disparity between the two divisions has been obvious – and yes, we acknowledge that the Ottawa RedBlacks, just 8-9-1 last year, upset the 15-2-1 Calgary Stampeders in the Grey Cup.
The CFL’s crossover format, first introduced in 1996, helped alleviate some of that disparity. It allows for the fourth-place team in either division to qualify for the playoffs if it has more points than the third in the other and cross over to that side for the post-season.
There have been nine crossover teams since its inception, all from the West. And as much as we have preached the traditional East-West Grey Cup format, the flip-flopping of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers from one division to another beginning in 1987 – from ’87-94 in the East; 1995 in the North; ’96 in the West; ’97-'01 in the East; ’02-'05 in the West; ’06-’13 in the East and from ’14-present in the West – has led to some ridiculous East-West championships. CFL fans were given a Winnipeg-B.C. final in 1988 and 2011; Winnipeg-Edmonton in 1990 and 1993; Calgary-Winnipeg in 1992 and 2001 and Winnipeg-Saskatchewan in 2007.
With full acknowledgement that no crossover team has advanced to the Grey Cup, it’s still time for the CFL to reconsider the idea of one division, one through nine. Under that format, the top two teams would earn a first-round bye, with the third-place facing the sixth and the four-place squad meeting the fifth.
Why is this significant, you may ask? Consider this: currently the last-place team in the West – the Saskatchewan Roughriders, at 3-4, would be tied with the Montreal Alouettes in the East. That disparity simply can’t be overlooked any longer – even for old-school traditionalist’s like the one penning this column.
Ed Tait is the Blue Bombers Director of Content. His columns appear weekly in the Metro. Follow him daily at bluebombers.com.