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Mark Cohon says counting quarterbacks’ nationalities could come up in next CBA talks

Andrew Bucholtz
55 Yard Line

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CFL commissioner Mark Cohon with the Grey Cup in November 2011.

Following the release of Brad Sinopoli, Kyle Quinlan and Kyle Graves, no CFL teams currently have a Canadian quarterback on their rosters. Much of that is thanks to the league's ratio rule, which is developed through CBA negotiations with the CFL Players' Association and currently doesn't count quarterbacks' nationalities, providing no incentive for teams to carry Canadian quarterbacks (unlike every other position) and essentially allowing teams to have 22 Americans and 20 Canadians on a roster. Changing that rule has been a frequent subject of media discussion, and on a conference call Tuesday to promote Friday's season kickoff, CFL commissioner Mark Cohon said the league will talk with team general managers about it and could raise it as an issue in the next round of CBA discussions (the current CBA expires following the 2013 season).

"That will be a discussion we will have with our general managers, and we anticipate it will be talked about in the next round of CBA meetings," Cohon said.

Cohon said the league's well aware of fans' desire to see Canadian quarterbacks succeed, and that's informed their efforts to get teams to give young quarterbacks at least some camp experience.

"What we've been really focused on with our teams is giving young Canadian quarterbacks the opportunity to learn and be mentored," he said. "This year, we mandated that every team bring a CIS QB or a young [junior or high school] QB to camp. Our focus is on developing young Canadians."

As the Sinopoli situation shows, all that development may come to nothing if teams still have no on-field ratio advantage from keeping a Canadian quarterback, though. Many think Canadian QBs take longer to develop than Americans given NCAA programs' extra games and resources, so most teams will go with an American over a Canadian if there's no ratio benefit to the latter; it's that ratio benefit and incentive to develop non-import talent that's led to the rise of Canadians at other key positions traditionally reserved for Canadians, including running back and middle linebacker. Cohon said down the road, the league could look to try and provide similar rewards to teams employing Canadian quarterbacks.

"As we look to the future, we are open to 'Are there some incentives we can give our teams?'" he said.

From this corner, that would be a much-needed step, and one the league should press hard on in the next CBA. It also wouldn't be smart of the CFLPA to oppose it, particularly if it's done in a way that will add Canadian jobs overall rather than subtract them. So far, we only have Eric Tillman's word that the CFLPA is the villain on this issue; if he's right, though, now would be the optimal time for them to have a change of heart on an issue that's vitally important to many CFL fans.

Other notes from Tuesday's conference call with Cohon:

—Another issue that's come up a lot recently is with drafted CIS players returning to school. That's spurred some calls for the CFL to change its draft eligibility rules, perhaps by having players declare when they're ready to come out of school rather than making them automatically eligible in a certain year. Cohon said the league's considering changes to the draft to deal with those situations.

"We've had some conversations with our clubs regarding that issue," he said. "That will be something we will be addressing."

Cohon said the league's key goal on that front is making it easier for clubs to identify who's willing to play for them.

"We want to make sure our players have opportunities and want to play."

—Also on the CIS front, TSN Radio 990's Moe Khan asked about the continuation of the Vanier Cup/Grey Cup pairing, which provided a tremendous showcase for perhaps 2011's top Canadian football moment. The two championships will be paired again in Toronto this fall, but it's highly unlikely that will work with the Grey Cup in Regina in 2013 thanks to limited stadium facilities and hotel rooms. Despite some of the issues that arose last year, Cohon said the 2011 pairing was worthwhile, and it's something that may be done again, but something that will likely revolve around the Grey Cup host city and if it's capable of hosting two football championships in a weekend.

"We think it was a great initiative to profile CIS football," Cohon said.

He said marketing young Canadian players is an important goal for the league, and the Vanier partnership helps with that.

"We want to make them superstars," Cohon said. "The Vanier is one of those initiatives."

—Cohon was asked about the expansion front, and he said while things are going well in Ottawa following the "Friends of Lansdowne" ending their court challenge, that franchise's entrance into the CFL might not come until 2015 depending on how stadium construction goes. As we saw in Winnipeg, that's not always a smooth process. When queried specifically about Moncton and Quebec City, he said that they'd like to do more regular-season games in Moncton but a CFL-quality stadium would be needed for any serious expansion discussion. He didn't reference Quebec City specifically, but said the league's expansion priority at the moment is getting Ottawa right.

"We're focused on expanding to nine teams in Ottawa," he said. "We'll see where the chips fall after that."

—A key issue for the league is what happens with the next TV deal. When the Globe and Mail's Bruce Dowbiggin asked about that, Cohon said that TSN has picked up their option to broadcast the CFL's 2013 season and that they have an exclusive negotiating window until this coming January to try and sign a new deal for beyond that. He said that they'll consider all options, but they're pleased with how the TSN partnership has gone. Cohon's especially happy that the network has invested in producing eight CFL documentaries this year, essentially the first Canadian foray into something like ESPN's acclaimed 30 For 30 series, as he sees those documentaries as a way to engage new fans and inform people about the CFL's remarkable history.

"It really is an opportunity for us to reach beyond the football fans."

—The 100th Grey Cup celebrations this year are going to be special, with a 10-day festival in Toronto. Cohon said he thinks the festival will particularly help sell the CFL in Southern Ontario, a crucial goal for the league.

"There's so many things here to really rally people in Southern Ontario."

—It's not just about Ontario, though, as the league announced earlier Tuesday that they'll be taking the Grey Cup on a cross-country train tour. Cohon said that they may do other things as well, including perhaps flying the Cup up North.

"We want to make sure the Cup visits as much of Canada as possible," he said. "We really want to go coast-to-coast-to-coast."

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