As we wave bye to the old start of the 2020 CFL season, it is time to be optimistic. Will there be football in the fall? No, probably not. The NBA experiment is already collapsing, and the NHL experiment is still too far away to evaluate. HOWEVER, the “thought experiment” remains. What if there was a way to have a season that guaranteed safety for the players and coaches and possibly fans? Well, if you are wondering what the season might look like, let your humble host offer you four choices for an eight-game schedule.
Before we get into the details of these choices, a word about the whole process. To have a reduced season is an opportunity to be embraced not to be shunned with talk of an asterisk beside the title or to be mocked as pointless. This is an opportunity for the league to think big, to try out ideas that they would never be able to do in a normal situation. If those ideas blow up, who cares? Any football is good football and now is the time for the Argos to push for some schedule gambles because the E in MLSE is for ENTERTAINMENT.
Option A – This is staying in Division
I would not be surprised if this is the plan the CFL chooses. East only. West only. In the East, it is easy, home and away and a race to the finish line. But the wrinkle is that games are back to back. A week off bye is built in for the whole division after Week 4 and the top two teams make the playoffs. Made for TV moments are still at play here though, because there will be a draw after each pair of games to determine which team is next. In the West, it is similar, we will keep the home and home set up and the break after Week 4 but each team will completely avoid one team during the season. The draw at the beginning of the season will be electric to see which team each one gets to avoid for the season and then the draws during the season. The top two teams in each division make the playoffs and playoff against the other division e.g. East 1 seed vs West 2 seed.
Option B – Winner Stays On
Anyone who has played pickup basketball knows this rule and the league should consider integrating it into the season. Eliminate the divisions. One division, 9 teams. Every week there will be four games and one team on the bye. The winners of the four games get to stay at home and choose one of the five teams to play. The team not chosen will go on bye. A team can only be not chosen once in the season and the original bye team must always be chosen. Whoa, I can hear you say, “this seems too complicated”. It is not and it definitely favors the good teams, but so what? Enough with the socialism of professional sports. The good franchises should be rewarded and if you don’t like it become a better franchise. Will some teams get fewer home games? Yes, but there likely will not be crowds anyways so it doesn’t really matter. On the plus side, we get a TSN show every week where franchises reveal which team they are inviting to play each week. The order of that draft can be done on the TV show. It will be terrific television. A weekly draft. So much trash talk. A slam dunk win for the CFL. And press around the world will write stories on it. Top four teams make the playoffs and then a Grey Cup.
Option C – The Democratic Process
This is the third and therefore most outside the box idea, but I call upon the CFL to consider it. It does not cheapen the league, it makes it exciting and unique and not afraid to adapt. In this scenario, again there are no divisions. Each week on Sunday, fans can vote online and until 6 pm Eastern to determine who their team plays the following week. There can be ways to make sure that the fans are members of the fanclub to vote, and other ways of defending against hacking but in the end, it will be what it is. A few rules will be in place to prevent chaos, no team can play each other more than twice and you can’t play back to back. Teams can draw to see who gets the bye. It sounds like madness but it really isn’t. It turns the league into one that is thinking about television and how to use the medium and that is ENTERTAINING its fans and likely making new ones. At the end, only the top three teams make the playoffs. The number one seed is sent to the Grey Cup and awaits the winner of the semi-final.
Option D – Everyone’s a Winner, Baby!
My last suggestion is one that doubles the playoff fun and I think offers the most for the most fans, so it is my favourite. The league would start in two divisions again, with each team playing four games. It will take one extra week in the West. After four games, the bottom two teams in each division are put into (for lack of a better term, and I’m sure we can come with a better term) the consolation bracket. They will play a round robin and the top two will then play the consolation final. This too can have a better name, but the idea is to give the teams that have no chance at the Grey Cup, a chance to compete for a trophy. The top five teams that are left will also play a round robin and the top two at the end of that will play for the Grey Cup!
There you have it, four ways the CFL could experiment and entertain us all in the fall.