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July 27, 2020

MMQB: Drama and high stakes would punctuate a shortened CFL season

(CFL PHOTO - MATT SMITH)

There’s a lot of ground to cover and a number of important hurdles to clear if the CFL is going to get a 2020 season off the ground. But with last week’s announcement of Winnipeg as the league’s tentative hub city, the concept of a shortened campaign actually became tangible. The more I think about the possibilities of what it could look like, the more exciting the idea of a condensed season becomes.

There are two words that stick out most to me when thinking about 2020: parity and urgency. If those two things play out the way they could, we’ll be in for the most wide open season in CFL history. Sure, 18 games from June to November is the ideal setup and the calendar we’ll get back to as early as next season. This year has to be different, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be extremely entertaining.

When thinking about the concept of parity, it’s hard not to see how even the playing field could be come September. It’s not dissimilar to what we’re seeing in Major League Baseball, which started its season over the weekend.

They’re playing 60 games (with an expanded playoffs), which is a drastic change from 162 under normal conditions. That’s a little more than a third of a regular Major League schedule with more playoff teams than per usual. Compare that to what is being tossed around, but not confirmed, in the CFL: six regular season games to go along with an expanded playoffs.

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A good start in a shortened season could help a team like Ottawa, who added QB Nick Arbuckle in the off-season, get back in the playoffs again (OttawaREDBLACKS.com)

Yes, they’re different sports with drastically different schedules, but that’s a third of a regular 18-game CFL season we’re talking about. In baseball, they’re talking about how the majority of teams have a good 40 to 60 game stretch each season. The same is true in the CFL; we see surprising starts or notable hot finishes every year. Now all it takes is one of those to be timed right and a shock No. 1  seed could be in the works.

Combine that with the fact that teams will likely have significantly shorter training camps than usual and it becomes extremely difficult to handicap a six-game regular season. If a “good” team doesn’t prepare the right way leading in, they could easily find themselves 0-2 and winless through a third of their season. The opposite is true with a great camp and a hot start. That’s why parity between all nine teams should be at an all-time high.

Now start to think about the high stakes that would hang over every single game played. The CFL is a league where we see teams survive rough starts all the time, as 18 games allows for a team to truly find its stride midway through. But with only six games, it’s not a stretch to say every regular-season game would be three times more important. The stakes truly would be that much higher.

No one wants to see a league forced to play only a third of a season, but every league in the world has had to alter approaches in 2020. Now it’s all about embracing the unique and unprecedented nature of the action we do get to see. If the CFL is able to play this year, the stakes will be ridiculously high for every single game to go along with an unmatched level of parity.

Sign me up. Let’s go.

Offensive and defensive linemen dilemmas

The third window of voting for the CFL’s All-Decade Team presented by LeoVegas opened last week and we’re focused on the big boys. Get your votes in for offensive and defensive linemen now as the team continues to take shape.

As part of the media panel, which is slightly different than fan voting, I was asked to submit a first and second place vote at every position: tackle, guard, centre, defensive end, and defensive tackle. There were some no-doubt votes in there, for sure, but I encountered difficulty for a few different reasons.

One of the overarching themes for me has been the debate between longevity and productivity. That dilemma was in the spotlight on the defensive side of the ball, specifically at defensive end. If you ask Montreal’s John Bowman, there’s no question that longevity has to take priority in this conversation. He spoke to CFL.ca’s Don Landry about the team last week.

“Strictly speaking, on defensive ends – and I’ll include myself in this one – you have three defensive ends, we’ve played the whole ten years in the decade. That’s nothing against anybody else.”

Bowman is referring to a trio of specific players: himself, Saskatchewan’s Charleston Hughes, and free agent Odell Willis. Those three are the only DE’s on the All-Decade list to play every season from 2010 through 2019. Personally, though, I didn’t go about putting my ballot together with tenure as my most important criteria.

I put more weight on what a player did during his time in the last decade, regardless of how long it was. That really helped to even the playing field and allowed for a guy like Willie Jefferson to truly get his due. Jefferson played in six of the last ten seasons, but shouldn’t be penalized for when he debuted in the CFL.

The o-line is always a tricky part of any football voting, but Saskatchewan guard Brendon LaBatte’s name continually comes up when those in the know are asked about worthy candidates for the All-Decade Team (Matt Smith/CFL.ca)

My dilemma at offensive line was a little different, specifically when it came to some of the less “glamorous” positions. Because statistics for offensive linemen are not always the most readily available, it took a deeper dive into team statistics for me to feel comfortable with my submissions at guard and centre.

I also was able to pick the brains of a few current and former players. A couple former guards helped with some context of why a player like Brendon LaBatte has been so consistent for so long. And a few former defensive linemen gave me some good insight on the most difficult guys they’ve gone up against; that specifically helped me narrow down my tackle submissions.

In the end, I could tell you every position was difficult to vote on, and that’s very true. Hopefully you’re enjoying the process so far, because we’re just over a week away from the next voting window opening.

Quick hits

I 100 per cent agree with Edmonton’s decision to change their nickname. I also think they’re going about the renaming process the right way. Instead of immediately making the change, Edmonton is going to wait, discuss, and engage to come up with a new moniker that represents the lore and history of the Green and Gold. That’s the way to do it.

Finally, let’s send some congratulations to Henry Burris…again. It’s been a good month of July for Hank: he was elected to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame 10 days before getting his first coaching opportunity in the NFL. Burris has joined the training camp staff of the Chicago Bears as part of the Bill Walsh diversity coaching fellowship. All the best to one of the Canadian game’s great ambassadors.