The Canadian Football League is the second-largest Pro Football league in the world, behind only the NFL in terms of popularity. It holds a special place in the heart of Canadians and football fans from around the world.
But what makes the CFL unique? Why should I start watching? And what do I need to know?
With around 11.4 million fans, the CFL ranks in the top two of all Canadian sports, and has a rich and illustrious history. Formed in 1958 in a merger of what are now known as the East and West Divisions, the CFL is engrained in North American sports culture.
It’s popularity cannot be understated. Approximately two million fans entered through stadium gates in 2021, with average game attendances reaching 24,500. And then there’s the Grey Cup – the most watched sporting event in Canada – which an estimated two in five of the population tune-in to watch.
Last season, 2.83 million people watched the Winnipeg Blue Bombers overturn a 12 point deficit in the fourth quarter, going on to win in overtime. It is the most watched
Format & Rules
Nine teams participate in the CFL, with the league split into Eastern (four teams) and Western (five teams) divisions. Beginning in mid-June and continuing through to November, the regular season spans 21 weeks, meaning each team will play 18 games and receive three bye-weeks. Teams play the other eight teams twice, with a further two games against a divisional rival that alters each year.
The winners of each division, following some playoff games, face off at the end of November in the much-anticipated Grey Cup, the second oldest trophy in North American sports. This year, the 109th edition of the Grey Cup will be hosted by the city of Regina.
In terms of rules, most of the CFL is aligned with pro-football rules you might associate with the NFL or NCAA. There are, however, some slight differences. For example, the field is slightly longer and wider, and the endzone is 20 yards deep, rather than 10. In addition, there are 12 players per team, with an extra back who is allotted as a receiver. Perhaps the most distinctive rule is that teams have three downs to make 10 yards, rather than the usual four, which often makes for more impossible catches and creative plays. Check this out, from a preseason game:
— CFL (@CFL) June 1, 2022
Crossovers with the NFL and NCAA
Links with the NCAA are plentiful, and many young players turn to the CFL to begin their careers. In fact, of all the players involved in the 2021 All Star game, 74% played in the NCAA. Perhaps even more remarkably, every single starting, first choice quarterback in the CFL has played in the NCAA. That has been the case ever since 1982.
There is also, of course, a huge crossover with the NFL. There have been a number of players who have swapped one league for another – and back again. The most famous of which is perhaps the 1984 Heisman recipient Doug Flutie, who spent several seasons in Canada, winning three Grey Cups, before moving to the Buffalo Bills, where he earned a Pro Bowl spot and cult-hero status. There are countless examples of players who move north to continue, rejuvenate, finish, or start their careers.
There is also a CFL Draft and Combine, which sources players from either NCAA Colleges or the Canadian U Sports network at the beginning of each season.
Okay, I’m in. What else do I need to know?
This weekend, the 2022 CFL season hits its peak, as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Toronto Argonauts go head-to-head for the Grey Cup. It pits the team with the most Grey Cup wins in CFL history (Toronto, with 17) against the defending champions, Winnipeg.
The 109th Grey Cup will take place at the Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan. Here’s how the two teams stack up, sourced with official CFL data:
You can see the full final schedule at the CFL website, here.