The Canadian quarterback debate is an omnipresent topic in the CFL, but it's particularly notable when those actually involved weigh in. We saw that with Edmonton Eskimos' general manager Eric Tillman's comments in March, and now we're seeing it again with a Canadian quarterback Tillman had in camp last year, Marc Mueller of the Regina Rams (who, in addition to being an excellent CIS pivot, also happens to be the grandson of CFL legend Ron Lancaster). Kent Ridley's excellent 2012 Draft Guide (available as a download here for $5.24 Canadian) features an interview with Mueller about the struggles Canadian quarterbacks have had making CFL teams, and what's particularly notable is that Mueller cites the import ratio rule (which we've covered many times before) as the most important barrier in the way of Canadian QBs. Here's what he had to say on the subject (with some slight edits for grammar):
I believe that the last major step for a Canadian QB to be back in the CFL is to treat us the same as other
Canadians. Until quarterbacks count against the ratio, it will be very difficult for teams to take a chance on a 23
year old CIS quarterback over a 27-28 year old NCAA quarterback who just left the NFL. The misconception is that us CIS QBs compete against NCAA QBs for jobs. We don't. We compete with the guy who just got cut from the NFL and has been with the Eagles or Bears for two or three years. For example, Colt Brennan, we compete against a guy like that.
I believe if there was no three-quarterback designation and that if there was just imports and non-imports that there would be more Canadian quarterbacks, not only because of the incentive but that most of the good athletes that play quarterback in high school in Canada wont change positions for a chance at the CFL. (Hey, that wasn't me, I can play one position and that's quarterback *laughs*).
Mueller is right across the board there. Yes, some quarterbacks come to the CFL straight from the NCAA, but most have had at least one NFL look of some description first, or toiled in other leagues like the AFL or the UFL. Meanwhile, Canadian quarterbacks don't really have anywhere to go after college, so they're at a substantial experience disadvantage. (Mueller and Ridley also both point out that NCAA quarterbacks tend to play many more games a year than CIS ones.) Thus, most Canadian QBs switch positions in an attempt to catch on at the CFL level or just give up football entirely. The difficulty of catching on as a Canadian quarterback at the CFL level drives many top athletes away from the position as early as high school, and that doesn't help either.
A simple change to the quarterback rule would go a long way towards alleviating the problem. At the moment, quarterbacks are the only players whose nationalities don't count towards the import ratio: teams must have 20 non-imports (or players who spent much of their early football career in Canada), 19 imports and three quarterbacks on their active roster, but quarterbacks' nationalities don't count, making them almost exclusively American (and meaning that most CFL teams tend to have 22 active Americans and 20 active Canadians). At the moment, the only Canadian QB in the league is Calgary quarterback Brad Sinopoli, although players like Mueller and Kyle Quinlan might have a shot at some point, but the Stampeders receive zero incentive to have a Canadian player there (unlike every other position, where a Canadian starter is a tremendous boon to your roster).
Making quarterback nationalities count would properly reward those teams that try to develop Canadian quarterbacks, and it would make Canadian quarterbacks valuable enough to help overcome their experience deficit against NCAA grads (especially if the roster rule itself was tweaked to mandate even numbers of Canadians and Americans). There have been conversations about changing the rule for some time, but it's quite interesting to see a player like Mueller who's been on the inside of a CFL team speak candidly about how much that simple rule change would boost the chances of catching on in the CFL for both him and other Canadian quarterback prospects. The reality is that the ratio rules are a collectively bargained issue, and the CFLPA has been cited as the entity in favour of keeping them as is. Media coverage and fan protests might help CFLPA leadership to change their minds, sure, but comments from players will likely make a much larger impact. That's why Mueller talking candidly about this matters. Here's hoping that other touted Canadian quarterback prospects follow suit.