The MMQB’s Canada Week coverage had some good points about the CFL and its charms

When Sports Illustrated senior writer Peter King announced that his TheMMQB.com site would be doing a week of CFL coverage, it seemed like something that could potentially provide wider perspectives on the league and illuminate just how interesting and unique this league is. After a week featuring impressive columns from Marc Trestman, Doug Flutie and Bruce Arthur and pieces from Emily Kaplan, Jenny Vrentas, and King himself, The MMQB wrapped up their CFL coverage (for now) Tuesday with some reader mail (both positive and negative) about the series, and in retrospect, their coverage lived up to the expectations from this quarter. As these pieces were generally written with an American audience unused to the CFL in mind, there was some repetition for those already familiar with Canadian football, but there was plenty of new insight into the CFL and how Americans see it as well. To borrow from one of King's standard column features, here are five things I think I think about his site's CFL coverage:

1. The CFL could use more strategic analysis: There are a ton of words written about Canadian football every year, but relatively few about the Xs and Os of the game. That used to be the case in the NFL and NCAA too, but plenty of sites and writers have taken a more detailed approach to the strategy elements involved in recent years, including Grantland's Chris Brown and The MMQB's Doug Farrar. The MMQB's week of CFL coverage wasn't heavily focused on the Xs and Os, but it did include some very interesting tidbits on them that we don't always see in Canadian media coverage, such as Trestman discussing how perfectly his West Coast variant worked north of the border with only minor changes, Flutie talking about the fast-paced nature of the CFL and the benefits of having a quarterback call his own plays and King commenting on the extensive pre-snap motion. It was also interesting to see King discuss how some CFL rule tweaks, such as reviewable pass interference, are quite likely to be copied south of the border. More of this, plus offensive and defensive formation and scheme analysis, would be very welcome in CFL coverage.

2. The quality of CFL play shouldn't be taken for granted: It's worth pointing out again that there are some incredible athletes in this league (and many more incredible athletes who don't make it to the CFL). That was illustrated in both Darian Durant's comments to King and Trestman's comments, but perhaps most eloquently in Flutie's comments:

People in America have no clue what goes on up there, or about the quality of football we had. That’s what made the experience for me. Most of the guys were NFL-caliber talent, but were undersized or just didn’t fit the mold in one way or another.

The CFL is facing some challenges on that front now, with NFL teams being more open to guys who likely historically would have been overlooked thanks to size (see Russell Wilson and Cameron Wake), but it also has some advantages at the moment, including the improving level of play at CIS and lower NCAA schools and the currently-limited non-NFL alternatives. CFL players are really impressive at what they do, and that shouldn't be forgotten.

3. CFL players' offseason jobs are about more than just money: It's easy to become numb to stories about CFL players working unusual jobs in the offseason given just how many of them there are, and it's easy for some to dismiss that as "Oh, they need the money." The fact is that many of them don't necessarily need it, though. As Kaplan's piece illustrates, guys like Jon Cornish are doing just fine with their CFL salaries, but pursue secondary careers so they'll have something to fall back on once football's done. Given the post-career struggles of many NFL players, that's something the American league would very much like to copy:

Patrick Kerney loves to hear these kinds of stories. An 11-year veteran of the NFL, Kerney is now the league’s vice president of player benefits. He sees a problem with financial literacy among NFL players and wants to train them to think with a long-term perspective. “You look at guys like Jon Cornish, or Matt Elam, and they understand,” Kerney says.

Elam is the Ravens’ 2013 first-round pick who took a job as a part-time sales associate at a sneaker store this offseason. He’s clocking about 20 hours a week at the Finish Line in a Gainesville, Fla., mall, working the floor and stocking shelves. “A historical pattern for players has been: ‘I want to get in the shoe business, how about I give a guy $500,000 to start a shoe business,’ ” Kerney says. “Elam said, ‘No, I want to throw my human capital at it, and I’ll get so much more out of it.’

Kerney doesn’t expect all NFL players to get offseason jobs. He does, however, want them to pay attention to opportunity cost—thinking about investments, extra degrees and post-playing opportunities during the beginning stages of their careers. Next offseason, the NFL will offer a personal finance program seminar in offseason hotbeds such as Miami and Southern California.

4. The rouge should be used more as a late-game weapon: King's comments on the rouge (or single) were fascinating:

So the rouge is a one-point scoring play. If you miss a field goal or punt the ball into the end zone and the defensive team doesn’t advance it out of the end zone, you get a point. Fascinating strategy to me. Imagine the game’s 28-28 with 10 seconds left and you’re at the opponents’ 20-yard line and you trust your punter more than your field-goal kicker. A coach can send in the punter and tell him to boom one high into the 20-yard end zone. If the punt team surrounds the returner and prevents him from getting out or kicking the ball out (another quirky rule—the return man can punt the ball back from the end zone in this case), the punting team wins 29-28. And games have ended this way.

Yes, games have ended that way. King misses that usually you want to try and knock the ball through the end zone, not just keep it in there, but his outsider's perspective illustrates something often missed about the rouge; it can be an invaluable strategic weapon in a late tied game, especially as punting the ball through the end zone is sometimes easier (and less susceptible to a massive return the other way) than kicking a long-range field goal. When coaches (like Saskatchewan's Ken Miller in 2010) have tried that though, the wave of criticism they've taken for not following the conventional wisdom has been overwhelming. This is the real advantage of CFL coverage from outsiders like King; they're not necessarily influenced by the league's dogma, and so they may see some things that are missed in Canada.

5. Not everyone will like the CFL—and that's okay: King's reader feedback column Tuesday was very interesting, featuring some Americans and Canadians saying they loved seeing more on the CFL from a U.S. site and some saying they hated it. That illustrates a couple of things. One, the CFL isn't yet at its maximum audience potential, especially south of the border. People can pick up this game and love it, and the new ESPN deal and its greater network consistency (plus live coverage of the playoffs) may help there. That's true in Canada as well, with some Canadians saying they gave the CFL a shot because of King's coverage and wound up liking it, and that's good news for the league; it's not limited to just its current fanbase. However, the responses to King also illustrate that there are plenty of people who not only don't care for the CFL, but aggressively complain about others watching, covering or enjoying it. Those people aren't going away either, but that's fine from a CFL perspective. It's not going to be the next NFL-level juggernaut any time soon. It is an entertaining league currently in some of the best shape in its history, though, and it does have growth potential. The MMQB's Canada Week, and the positive responses to it, illustrate that.

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