Would the NFL fade CIAU players out of the CFL picture
By James Pugsley
According to Canadian Football League communications co-ordinator, Grant Garrow, rumours that the National Football League will be trying to save the Canadian Football League are false. However, the concept has stirred up an interesting debate at the Canadian university level.
Most notably, what would be the short-term and long-term effects on Canadian Intercollegiate Athletic Union's football players should the CFL merge with the NFL? Would having more American football players likely young NFL prospects playing in Canada have positive or negative ramifications for young football hopefuls living north of the border?
As the CFL entry draft approaches in March, the tide of attention will shift to Canada's young talent specifically, the hopefuls of the CIAU. Homegrown talent, a mandatory component of every team, is part of the current quota for Canadian players on each team and predicates the need for CFL teams to select the best youth Canada has to offer.
An alleged deal, reported by the Canadian Press last week, would send two NFL-paid players to teams in Canada's entertaining, but financially-troubled, league.
But would allowing more U.S. talent to enter the CFL close doors on CIAU players who are considering a shot at the big leagues? Are there alternatives for the CFL to examine that could ensure the safety of Canadian players?
Larry Haylor, Western's football head coach believes there will be no immediate changes should the NFL send players northward.
"In the short term I can't see [the alleged deal] having any impact on CIAU players," Haylor said. "As long as the CFL maintains the quota, there should be no concerns."
Haylor, whose Mustang teams of the past three seasons have produced five professional players, feels the development of Canadian players is a direct result of the opportunity made available to them.
"If this deal leads to a greater American content in the future which would reduce the opportunity for Canadian university football players to play in the CFL, then I would be worried."
The executive vice-president of the CIAU, Mark Lowry, agrees.
"There are concerns from a CIAU standpoint with the strong efforts to eliminate the quota for American players," Lowry said in reference to the U.S. expansion experiment of a season ago. "If they remove the quota, CFL teams would head to America for talent and that would have an enormous impact on Canadian football players."
Brian Towriss, head coach at the University of Saskatchewan, believes there is an alternative for the CFL that would be ideal for all Canadian football players.
"I think the CFL needs to go back to the way it was smaller-market teams with a maximum salary of no more than $70,000," he said. "This would make the game more relative to the community and there is less need to attract 30,000 fans because the payrolls are a lot less."
In relation to the CIAU, Towriss, whose team won this year's Vanier Cup, believes this semi-pro system would be a success.
"Although it isn't millions, I don't know too many young players that would refuse to get paid to play football," he said.
"I think coaches around the league have kind of been keeping our fingers crossed to make the CFL entirely Canadian," the Mustangs' head coach said. "If such a system existed it would be the tip of the football structure in Canada and could perhaps give an opportunity for the CIAU to grow."
Lowry said that such a system sounds familiar like the CFL of old.
"It worked pretty well back then," Lowry said. "The CFL had a strong Canadian presence and there's an awful lot we can learn from that. However, I do know that such an idea is the farthest thing from the mind of this year's CFL governors."
The head coach of the Mount Allison Mounties, John MacNeil, sees some positive elements coming out of a potential NFL/CFL merger.
"It's a way of solidifying the CFL and it could act as an avenue for Canadian players to the NFL," MacNeil said with cautious optimism. "However, I think danger is there if [the CFL] doesn't keep Canadian content."
Although the Mounties were eliminated by the eventual Vanier Cup finalists, the St. Francis Xavier X-Men, the team boasted the best offensive player in the CIAU superstar running back Eric Lapointe. Lapointe has only completed two seasons of football, winning the rookie-of-the-year award in his first season followed by this year's Hec Creighton award. He will likely advance to the professional level with ease.
However, it is the fringe players, those who have not been as successful as Lapointe, but could certainly attempt a CFL career, who MacNeil believes have almost no chance at surviving should the American content increase.
As the CIAU's coaches and executive contemplate the importance of having a more stable system for Canadian talent to develop into, Ron Lancaster, head coach of the CFL's Edmonton Eskimos, is worried about the league they are coming from.
"If the NFL deal happens I think it will have no effect on the CIAU," Lancaster said. "I'm concerned more by the cutbacks in the CIAU. Some schools can't afford to keep programs alive and that bothers me more than the development of the CFL."
The Eskimos will have the second pick overall at the entry draft and Lancaster is well aware of how important harvesting Canadian talent can be.
"CFL coaches know which are the big CIAU teams to produce pro players," he said. "It's a process of examining the individuals and the programs they came from."
But Lancaster didn't hesitate to downplay the concept of the CFL as a semi-pro league that, according to the CIAU coaches, would be better for Canadian football as a whole.
"Nobody in the CFL would even discuss the idea of a such a league," he said. Garrow said he concurred with Lancaster's assessment.
As the outlook of football in Canada could have a more American flavour, individuals from both leagues are examining the circumstances. However, as the NFL presses onward and the CFL continues to struggle, all parties agree there must be more communication in order for the Canadian football development system to survive.
"Relations between the CFL and the CIAU are getting better and better all the time," Lancaster said.