November 16, 2011
The CFL's league all-star selections were released today, and the most interesting decision may be the choice at quarterback. That saw West Division all-star Travis Lulay of the B.C. Lions selected over East Division all-star Anthony Calvillo of the Montreal Alouettes. A move like that is notable on its own merits, of course, and there are plenty of reasons to question if it's the right choice. It's even more significant than your typical all-star pick, though, because the two quarterbacks are also the divisional nominees for Most Outstanding Player (as winners of the Jeff Nicklin Memorial Trophy and Terry Evanshen Trophy, which is voted on by a similar group. Last year's league all-star selections saw Henry Burris chosen over Calvillo at quarterback, and that pattern was repeated (perhaps unjustly) with the MOP award. Will the same thing happen this year, and if so, will it be the wrong decision again?
There's a good chance that the MOP voting will go the same way as the league all-star voting, but it isn't an absolute lock. The league all-star voting includes fans (voting via ballots in Postmedia papers as well as online through CFL.ca), a select group of Football Reporters of Canada members and head coaches, while the MOP voting doesn't include a fan component. Still, league all-star voting has proven quite a good predictor in the past when the MOP candidates play the same position, and that goes beyond 2010. 2008 saw Burris and Calvillo go head-to-head for both titles again, with Calvillo taking both. 2007 saw then-Saskatchewan QB Kerry Joseph and then-Winnipeg QB Kevin Glenn nominated for MOP; Joseph was named as the league's all-star at QB and then took home the MOP award.
Similar stories happened in 2004 (Casey Printers over Calvillo in both awards), 2003 (Calvillo over Dave Dickenson in both), and 1997 (Doug Flutie over Jeff Garcia in both). Those are the only other times in the last 15 years that players from the same position have been the two divisional nominees for MOP. Every time in that span we've seen two players from the same position (which has always been quarterback) nominated for MOP, the one who's taken the league all-star selection has gone on to win the big award, so it might be a good move to place your bets on Lulay now.
This also makes a pretty good argument for nominating players from different positions (such as the man I'd have as MOP this year, Montreal's Jamel Richardson). That's why there are only seven years (counting this year) in the last 15 listed above as examples of the league all-star selection spoiling the MOP vote; in the eight other seasons, the divisional MOP nominees played different positions, so league all-star choices didn't give anything away. It would be pretty easy to make it so that even a same-position showdown wouldn't be spoiled by league all-star voting, though. Just split the FRC/head coach voter pool in half, with half selecting the league all-stars and half voting for MOP. This would preserve some suspense for the CFL's top award on its big awards night, rather than effectively spoiling it weeks in advance whenever two nominees from the same position are selected.
The other advantage of splitting the voting pool would be that it would perhaps lead to better decisions. Yes, it sounds somewhat silly to potentially have a MOP who wasn't chosen as the league all-star at his position, but other leagues get around this for awards with different voter pools. See the NHL, where both the Hart Memorial Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award (formerly the Lester B. Pearson Award) are presented to the league's top player; one is chosen by writers, the other by the players. (On that note, the CFL should really have a MVP award selected by the CFLPA members as well.) With more awards or a split in the voting pool, at least the best choice has a better chance of picking up at least one honour.
That's the annoying thing about this selection in particular, too. Lulay had a terrificseason, and he might just be the CFL's next great-up-and-coming quarterback. He led the CFL's best comeback down the stretch and was a key part of the Lions' first-place finish in the West Division. Still, it's awfully tough to make a statistical case that his performance was better than Calvillo's; Lulay trailed in completion percentage (58.7 per cent to 61.8 per cent), yards (4,815 to 5,251), touchdowns to interceptions (32/11 to 32/8) and quarterback rating (95.8 to 98.2). The case for Lulay is basically that he was good down the stretch, his team finished first and his team dominated Calvillo's team in the final game of the regular season, and all three of those arguments have holes in them.
Sure, Lulay (seen at above right) was good down the stretch and probably better than Calvillo (seen at above left), but that's a flawed criterion. Despite the heightened importance everyone gives to the final games, a win in Week One matters just as much in the playoff positioning standings as a win in Week 19. Also, last I checked, the award wasn't "Most Outstanding Player Over The Season's Final 11 Games," so that seems like a rather arbitrary distinction.
Lulay's team putting up a 11-7 record and grabbing first versus Calvillo's team going 10-8 and getting second (before getting knocked out in the first round) also shouldn't matter; wins are useless as a quarterback statistic, as their W-L record has a lot to do with the performances of the 11 other players on the field with them, the showings of the 12 players on their teams' defence, the performance of their squad's special teams and the decisions made by their coach. Lulay had a good year, but the Lions also had the league's best defence in points allowed, whereas Montreal took a major step back on defence. That was clearly shown in their playoff exit, where Calvillo turned in one of the best quarterbacking performances of the season but the Alouettes still lost thanks to an atrocious defensive effort.
Relying on the head-to-head battle from Week 19 is also problematic. That's a single game, and this is a season-long award. It's worth noting that Calvillo's team won the first showdown between the squads in Week One, but no one's mentioning that as a reason why he should be MOP.
This isn't to gripe about Lulay. He had an amazing year, and he's far from the worst choice out there for MOP. It's more of an issue with the system. Call me a grump, but I can't get too excited about finding out in two weeks that a player I already know has been chosen as MOP has gone on to claim the CFL's top award for reasons that have little to do with his statistical performance.