The Good, Bad & Ugly 2010: Canadian Football League

From its earliest moments, there was a sense this CFL season might offer something special, and it delivered on that promise throughout the year. The 2009 Grey Cup champion Montreal Alouettes and runner-up Saskatchewan Roughriders again provided much of the drama in 2010, from Saskatchewan’s 54-51 victory in the season-opening Canada Day shootout to Montreal’s 21-18 triumph in the November Grey Cup rematch. Unlike some past years, however, this was far more a season of parity. Despite all the great moments, there were also plenty of lousy ones with a surprising number of silly controversies and ongoing stadium battles. Here’s a look at the year’s high and low points.

The Good: Ratings, resurgence and reaching out:

Anthony Calvillo finished the season, and won the Grey Cup, despite a cancer scare.
(Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

From a league perspective, the best story of the year was the CFL’s continued rise in the TV ratings. An average of 876,000 Canadians tuned in to each regular-season game, a five percent boost over last year and TSN’s top numbers for any league, ahead of even their midweek NHL and NBA broadcasts. The playoffs drew even better numbers, and the Grey Cup broadcast reeled in an average audience of 6.04 million, the third-highest in TSN history (behind only the 2009 Grey Cup and the 2010 World Junior final). The audience also got younger, which bodes well for the league; it’s not all that long ago the CFL was seen as the preference of older fans alone.

Some of those ratings may have been driven by the league’s increased parity. Although three teams started the year 2-7, all of those franchises managed at least a partial turnaround and put up great fights against the top teams. B.C. came together down the stretch, made the playoffs and took Saskatchewan to double overtime, while Eric Tillman started to turn the Eskimos around, and they narrowly missed the playoffs. Even the 4-14 Blue Bombers were better than their record indicated.

The best turnaround of the year came in Toronto, though, where new head coach Jim Barker and superstar running back Cory Boyd led the Boatmen from a 3-15 mark in 2009 to a 9-9 season and an East Final berth.

Plenty of good-news stories about CFL players, teams and alumni also came out, from the donations of Adriano Belli and Jay Roberts to Anthony Calvillo’s courage to the Huddle For Haiti project.

The Bad: Stompings and stadiums

It wasn’t an entirely positive year, though. There were bad moments on the field, with one-sided stompings such as Calgary’s 52-5 thumping of Edmonton, and some more depressing ones off it with stadium issues in B.C., Winnipeg and Hamilton. The B.C. and Winnipeg situations appear to be coming along, but Hamilton remains an issue heading into 2011.

The Ugly: Conflict and controversy

The ugliest parts of the CFL season had little to do with the on-field product, but rather off-field controversies that sprung up over minor issues. Everything from MRIs to pink uniforms and gloves to league bias in hotel selection created a firestorm, often making the league look bad.

None of the issues had real staying power, but they didn’t help the perception of the CFL. By contrast, ugly on-field moments like Flemons’ fumble or the triple punt proved to be some of the most memorable and probably helped the league’s marketing. We’ll see if the on-field product can overwhelm the off-field missteps again in 2011.

Updated Tuesday, Dec 28, 2010