It's amazing how quickly things can change in the CFL. Last week, Canadian quarterback Brad Sinopoli was the Calgary Stampeders' hero, leading them to an improbable comeback victory over the Edmonton Eskimos. Saturday, Sportsnet's Arash Madani reported that Sinopoli was released by the team. Although it's disappointing to see Sinopoli released following such a spectacular performance, it isn't altogether surprising; he didn't see a snap in Friday's second preseason game (which saw Calgary beat Saskatchewan 33-31), and the coaching staff clearly ranked American rookie Bo Levi Mitchell ahead of him. Sinopoli's release doesn't mean he's out of the CFL, as he could still potentially wind up on the Calgary practice squad or sign on with another team, but coupled with the Alouettes' decision to cut Kyle Quinlan, it's disappointing news for the Canadian quarterback movement, and it reinforces the idea that rule changes will be necessary for these guys to get a real shot.
The key element here is not the pure skill of the Canadian and American players involved, but rather their training. Although the quality of coaching and play in CIS football is improving (and that's opened doors for players like Sinopoli), CIS quarterbacks still come in at a substantial disadvantage to those from prominent NCAA schools. NCAA programs tend to train more extensively (and for longer parts of the year), use more elaborate playbooks, have more position coaches (and ones with more substantial resumes) and perhaps most importantly, play more games; CIS schools play eight regular-season games, while NCAA ones tend to play 12 regular-season games and can get up to 14 with a conference championship game and a bowl game. It also helps that American quarterbacks tend to have started at an earlier age and played with community and high school teams with superb coaching and massive resources. While program resources aren't everything (the vast majority of CFL starters at the moment don't come from NCAA powerhouses), even some lower-level NCAA schools have more resources than some of the top CIS ones, and while adjusting to the Canadian game can be tough for American quarterbacks, the extra training and preparation the Americans have accumulated over the years can give them a leg up on CIS quarterbacks at first.
With that in mind, it's absolutely crucial for teams to have incentives to develop Canadian quarterbacks. They have those incentives at every other position thanks to the import rule, which requires teams to have 20 Canadians, 19 Americans and three quarterbacks on their roster; thus, developing Canadian talent at one position allows teams to play Americans elsewhere. However, quarterbacks' nationalities aren't counted, which many believe is unfair; that means there's no reward for teams that try to develop or play a Canadian quarterback, as the Canadian QBs are treated as Americans. Thus, most teams are always going to go with three American pivots, making the ratio essentially 20 Canadians to 22 Americans. Whether that's the fault of the league or the players' association is up for debate, but it's clear that the current system provides no on-field incentive to develop Canadian pivots. (There are off-field ones from the marketing side, but the best marketing tool is winning, and most teams will make decisions based on what they feel gives them the best chance to win; under the current rules, most see that as employing three American quarterbacks.)
An ideal solution would be simply removing the "quarterback" roster designation and mandating that teams carry 21 Canadians and 21 Americans. This would essentially create eight extra Canadian jobs across the board, and teams could choose whether to have those be quarterbacks or players at other positions. Teams that chose to take a CIS quarterback and develop them for a few years to see if they could turn into a CFL starter would be rewarded for doing so, but no one would be forced to, alleviating concerns about a lack of supply of Canadian QBs.
It's worth noting that this isn't simply about employing Canadian roster-fillers, as Canadians have proven at every other position that they're quite capable of excelling when given a shot. From running back to wide receiver to middle linebacker, non-imports have shown they can be as good as Americans at any particular position when given a chance, but they likely never would have been given a chance if not for the import rule, as the easiest solution for CFL teams without that would be just to fill their rosters with NCAA-trained Americans. The ratio makes teams look a little harder at Canadian players and CIS, establishes the importance of the draft, and leads to some terrific players getting discovered and shining on the gridiron. If that rule didn't bizarrely exclude quarterbacks, a guy like Brad Sinopoli might just have the opportunity to shine in real games eventually, rather than being cut despite a great preseason performance.