‘WE ARE A THREE-ENDED FOOTBALL LEAGUE’: CFL commissioner hopes for more action, more goals

“The opportunity is to find new ways to take our three-way game and make it more fun, fast-paced and entertaining.”

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There should be no confusion, no ambiguity.

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Canadian Football League Commissioner Randy Ambrosie says the words. Then he repeats them slowly, pausing between each word: “We are a three-way football league.

There’s been a lot of discussion on social media over the past few days and weeks about why the CFL hasn’t denied rumors that he may be considering four tries. In a 30-minute one-on-one interview, Ambrosie was very, very clear: While the CFL could tinker with its rules, the three tries, which distinguish the league and its rules from the National Football League juggernaut, remain.

“We are not going to four-a-side football. I can promise you that,” Ambrosie said.

In the interview, Ambrosie also spoke about a consumer study commissioned by the CFL, the expansion, negotiations with the CFL Players Association as they try to agree on a new collective agreement. and CFL 2.0.

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“Our consumer research study tells us that there is a large group of people across the country who are available to us as potential fans,” he said. “They were sports fans and they understand football; it wasn’t just random people. They tell us that they want more fluidity in the game, they want more action and more goals, they want to see more continuity on the lists. So how can we create the most fun, fastest and most exciting football product in the world that will achieve these results, something that will attract new fans to our game? It comes down to this amazing three-way football game we have. You walk into the room and decide that our goal is to make three-a-side football the best brand of football played.

“We know our two outs are up. Not just for 2021, our two withdrawals have climbed. So you say, ‘Is a two-and-out an exciting series of football?’ The answer is probably no. How do you massage the game to get more first downs, more big plays, and open up a few more points. The issue of four-a-side football worries people. The conversation for us was, “Is this a viable option? The vast majority of the conversation was, ‘No, no.’ The opportunity is to find new ways to take our threesome game and make it more fun, fast and entertaining.

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TSN’s Farhan Lalji suggested changes the league could make, including moving kickoffs to the kicking team’s 25-yard line, timing adjustments to speed up the game and the reduction of hash marks in the field.

CFL 2.0, an initiative intended to bring strong global reach with the employment of players from outside North America, has been criticized both outside and inside the league. Some CFL general managers and coaches are skeptical it will ever pay dividends, but Ambrosie insisted the league must continue to view it as a long-term plan.

Calgary Stampeders bettor Cody Grace has become the first
Calgary Stampeders bettor Cody Grace has become the first “international” player to be named CFL All-Star. Photo by Ian Kucerak /Postmedia

“Not everything you do will result in transformation overnight,” Ambrosie said. “You plant seeds, you cultivate them and they grow over time. We had our first world star, Cody Grace, the Calgary punter. Thiadric Hansen has had success in Winnipeg. Why wouldn’t the CFL want to be at the epicenter of the global football movement? Why would we entrust this to anyone else? We have created an opportunity that could potentially open doors to global earning opportunities. If you ask me the question, ‘What will be the global opportunity of football if you don’t?’ I can tell you the answer, ‘Nothing.’ What is the opportunity if we take one small step? The answer is: “I don’t know. But the answer is zero if we don’t try at all.

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Ambrosie hopes the CFL’s partnership with Genius Sports, announced late last year, will help build relationships with fans around the world.

“It’s part of a bigger picture, a bigger opportunity,” Ambrosie said. “You can’t go anywhere if you’re not going anywhere. You have to try things. My job is to lead. If I have not yet convinced (team employees); I have to keep working on it. I have nine partners, nine teams, nine governors, nine presidents. My job is persuasion and influence. Not everyone will see every opportunity in the same way at the same time.

CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie said the Atlantic Schooners Group continues to work with the CFL on an expansion franchise project.
CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie said the Atlantic Schooners Group continues to work with the CFL on an expansion franchise project. Photo by DARRYL DYCK /THE CANADIAN PRESS

So where is the league at with the expansion? We haven’t heard much about a group from Halifax applying to join the CFL since the regional council voted in 2019 for a one-time $20 million stadium building contribution. . Through a pandemic and the resulting financial shortfalls, there is still hope. Adding a 10th team would make league scheduling easier. With nine teams, there are currently three weeks off. That could be reduced to one or two with 10 teams and the Gray Cup could be played earlier in November.

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“This group (Atlantic Schooners) continues to work with us,” Ambrosie said. “We’re going to apply the carpenter’s saying: ‘Measure twice and cut once.’ We take a methodical approach. Are we still enthusiastic? You bet. A lot of things have changed since 2019. We had to review everything. We are taking the right approach to having our 10th franchise and officially welcoming Atlantic Canada as the 10th team. I believe a 10th team is a great opportunity for the league.

Former star linebacker Solomon Elimimian, seen here in a 2016 file photo, is president of the CFL Players Association.
Former star linebacker Solomon Elimimian, seen here in a 2016 file photo, is president of the CFL Players Association. Photo by Ernest Doroszuk /Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun

With a team revenue-sharing program now in place, the CFL will also need to agree with its players’ association on a new collective bargaining agreement before the 2022 season. When asked how that’s going, Ambrosie said “I would like to have a long-term, mutually beneficial partnership with our players. We are sharing information with players in an unprecedented way. Ten days ago, we delivered our market research to players, before it is made public. We have made transparency and openness the ingredients of a new relationship. I give the CFLPA huge marks – to Solomon (Elimimian, President), to Brian (Ramsay, Executive Director) , to Ken Georgetti (Senior Advisor) – they’re trying just as hard as we are to build a real partnership. Going into the negotiation, I feel very optimistic. I’m not going to get into what we’re talking about. But I feel very well then ns the relationship right now.

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