Peter King’s debuts “Canada Week,” announcing plans for CFL coverage

The CFL always manages to pick up some attention south of the border, with unusual events such as Chad Johnson's debut even getting airtime on shows such as ESPN's SportsCenter, but it's rare to see any sort of detailed, comprehensive coverage of the league from American media outlets. That's what makes Sports Illustrated senior writer Peter King's plan to do a "Canada Week" at his football site so intriguing. King has mentioned the idea of CFL coverage before, but he fully unveiled his plans Monday (along with a guest column on the CFL from Chicago Bears and former Montreal Alouettes coach Marc Trestman), and they're quite impressive. Here's what King's announced so far:

2. I think you’ll enjoy the rest of the week’s guest-column CFL stuff. Tuesday we’ll give you Doug Flutie reflecting on the great time he had in his eight-year CFL career, about how he went up there almost out of necessity and got to love it more than the NFL game … and also about how he thinks with the advent of the spread and hurry-up offenses and the lack of prejudice toward short quarterbacks he’d have a better chance of winning a long-term NFL starting job today. Wednesday: Noted and respected Canadian sportswriter Bruce Arthur—formerly of the National Post, now with the Toronto Star—writes about the CFL and its small-town charm.

3. I think this is the rest of our coverage plan for the week, with some flexibility built in based on what we find in our reporting:

a. Emily Kaplan on the heavy community involvement of players, with even the great ones (many of them) working jobs in their team’s cities in the off-season.

b. Jenny Vrentas at Toronto-Winnipeg, filing overnight Thursday after the evening game that opens the CFL season, with the color of the game and the crowd.

c. I’ll be at two games: Montreal at Calgary on Saturday afternoon, and Hamilton at Saskatchewan on Sunday evening. I’ll be writing a CFL-apolooza for my Monday Morning Quarterback next week, live from Regina.

d. I’ll be driving from Calgary to Regina, and if all goes well Saturday night, I may just have a beer in Medicine Hat. Now, how many people outside of those on the great prairie can say they’ve had a beer in Medicine Hat? Suggestions appreciated, by the way.

e. A week from tomorrow, my Tuesday column will be almost all from you. I want to hear about our coverage—whether you care, whether you don’t, whether you just want a break from football, whatever. So please send your comments in next Monday, either by email or in the comments section below my column, and we’ll print as many of them as we can.

That all sounds fascinating. It's not that the CFL necessarily needs or should be seeking American attention, but hey, gaining fans can never hurt, no matter which side of the border they're on. More importantly, though, U.S. coverage of the league can provide wider perspectives sometimes missed or forgotten about as old news up here. For example, consider Kaplan's proposed story. Everyone regularly on the CFL beat is so used to players' community involvement and second jobs that it only gets substantial attention when a player does something really unusual, such as Rob Maver working a second job during the season or the group of eight CFL players that went to help rebuild Haiti in 2011. A broader look at just what's life's like for the average CFL player and just how much they give back to their community could be quite valuable.

American perspectives on the CFL and how it fits in to the broader football world may have plenty to offer on other fronts, too. Some Canadian fans and media treat the league as the only brand of football out there, but it's substantially connected to both the NCAA and the NFL, drawing players from the former and developing some players for opportunities in the latter. What happens in those leagues inevitably affects the CFL in some way, so it's always interesting to see some thoughts on Canadian football from those with backgrounds in the American game. That's not to say that those thoughts should always be taken as gospel (trying to impose more American-style football ideas to Canada didn't work for either Bart Andrus or Dan Hawkins, to name just a few), but they're always worth considering, and there are several areas where American leagues have jumped ahead in ways that the CFL might want to investigate further.

On the strategic front, there are all sorts of areas where American input might be interesting. Why aren't we seeing as much read-option in the CFL as we do in the NFL or NCAA? What about the hurry-up, no-huddle schemes used so successfully by many colleges? Or Air Raid-style offences? (Some elements of the Air Raid pop up in the CFL, and its predecessor, the run-and-shoot, was first tested in the pros with the Toronto Argonauts, but it's been refined in interesting ways in the NCAA that haven't yet popped up north of the border.) Alternatively, what CFL offensive and defensive schemes might find more use in the NCAA and NFL going foward? Player-safety issues also come to mind: while the CFL made some significant strides on that front this year, making many cut blocks and peel-black blocks illegal (after years mulling it), they're still a long way from safety initiatives the players want. The NFL and NCAA are far from perfect on the safety front too, of course, but American perspectives on how their actions and rules compare to the CFL's could be valuable.

In the end, whether TheMMQB's interest in and coverage of the CFL continues is going to depend on how many people read it. From King:

I think my big boss at Sports Illustrated, Paul Fichtenbaum, had an interesting comment when I told him about our “Canada Week” plans. “Peter,’’ he said, “how many people are going to read this?’’ I told him I didn’t know, but part of what I want to do at The MMQB is to troll the waters with different ideas. If our numbers are very low, we get the message; we won’t cover the CFL anymore. If they’re high, well, we’ll probably cover the Grey Cup this year.

So it’s up to you, the readers and video viewers (yes, we will have a videographer with me on the weekend in Alberta and Saskatchewan) to determine whether we do more CFL coverage. I will say that I have a good feeling about it. When I said on Twitter we planned some CFL stories and I wanted to know where to go, I got a landslide of responses—so many of you say we’ve got to go to Saskatchewan because of the fervor of the ‘Rider fans—and I’m hopeful that all of you will come back to the site often this week and read what we’ve got.

From this corner, here's hoping that they get enough interest to keep this up. The CFL doesn't vitally need extensive American coverage, but more coverage and more perspectives are always welcome, especially from different viewpoints and backgrounds. Having more options for CFL fans out there to read seems positive, too. At the very least, this "Canada Week" should lead to a fascinating week of different perspectives on the Canadian game. If it works out for them, this might just be the first step in a whole new area of CFL coverage.