Canadian Football League ramping up global outreach in 2020

By Dan Barnes, Postmedia

The Canadian Football League will wave the flag all over the globe in 2020, as its ambitious international outreach takes major strides forward.

The rapid expansion of the so-called CFL 2.0 initiative is necessary since the league will double its complement of global players on each team’s active roster to two next season. The nine CFL teams are also likely to park two or three global players on the practice roster, in case of injury or performance issues.

That means the international talent pool has to grow accordingly, quickly and cost effectively. To that end, the league hired Greg Quick in November to centralize its global scouting procedures, and the CFL will hold player combines in Helsinki, Stockholm, Frankfurt, Paris, Bristol, Florence, Tokyo, Osaka, Mexico City and Copenhagen between Jan. 11 and March 15 of 2020. Local federations and leagues are picking up the bulk of the tab.

The best players from those events will attend the CFL combine in Toronto from March 26 to 28, and a complement of those players will be selected by CFL teams in the global draft on April 16.

Unearthing worthy candidates from 10 international combines amounts to a ton of work for a skeleton crew of CFL staffers, which includes Quick, head of football operations Greg Dick and senior director of football operations Ryan Janzen.

It should also have been seen as an opportunity to involve active CFL players in both the combines and in availabilities with local media. But there won’t be an active CFLer on hand, as commissioner Randy Ambrosie explained in an interview with Postmedia in Calgary during Grey Cup week.

“Our strategy with the combines was, we didn’t want to create a big cost structure, so a very small group will travel. So the spirit in which I have approached our governors on our international strategy is with a very tight cost model. It’s not filled with excesses, so not having the players (at the combines) is not about not wanting them there. It’s (about operating) the way we promised the governors we would.

“Keep it tight.

“Let’s get this first big year out of the way, see how it went. And maybe in future years that can be part of the conversation.”

It really should have been a topic for this winter. Presumably, local media will be interested in covering the combines. It would have made sense to have a CFL star on hand to talk up the virtues of the league while telling his own story, and it would not have been terribly cost prohibitive for a single active player to attend perhaps a handful of combines. It amounts to an opportunity missed.

“We’ve offered the support of the players on this,” said CFL Players Association executive director Brian Ramsay. “As 2.0 goes global, we can’t see better ambassadors for our game than some of the stars of the show now. Some of our players actually reside in some of these countries in the off-season, so it makes sense from our point of view to have the players involved and they would happily do so. We had chatted about it before (with the CFL). We haven’t talked about it recently.”

Granted, there are other issues of import on the table now. The CFLPA filed a grievance after the league prevented veteran players from signing NFL practice roster agreements in the off-season. On Monday, Ramsay said the two sides are making progress on the issue but he would not offer details.

Ambrosie has made a point of stressing that players, coaches and alumni will be brought into the CFL’s big tent in a more meaningful way than ever before. If that’s the case, the league could have started with the players and 2.0. The CFLPA supports the initiative, and its members stand to gain financially from its success.

“We’ve bought into this,” said Ramsay. “The league is taking this approach, and part of this conversation is saying how can we have as much success as possible. With CFL 2.0 and the global push, if we’re going to go down this road, then everyone has to be in it to find ways to set up for success. There is no point not doing that.

“Coming out of bargaining, there is value for the players. Part of what was negotiated is tied into the success of 2.0, so from the players’ perspective, how can we help grow it? That’s what I’m saying.”

He understands and supports the league’s desire to limit costs associated with 2.0, so he isn’t raising too much of a fuss over the exclusion of players this time. But the league and the players have to act more like partners on everything going forward.

“This is the first year. If this is going to be what everyone hopes is an annual event, we should have our players part of this and telling their story,” said Ramsay.

[email protected]

Read the original story in the Toronto Sun by Dan Barnes