Tackling the CFL Playoff Format

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OTTAWA, ON - AUGUST 10: Edmonton Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly (13) prepares to pass the ball during Canadian Football League action between Edmonton Eskimos and Ottawa RedBlacks on August 10, 2017 at TD Place Stadium, in Ottawa, ON, Canada. (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The CFL playoff format has been a hot topic around the CFL for a generation. The crossover enables the top four teams from one division to make the playoffs if the fourth seed in that division is better than the third seed in the other division. This has worked since the crossover was introduced to the CFL over twenty years ago because there has never been a time where all five teams from the West Division were better than the second place team in the east. With that as a possible outcome this season, shouldn’t whoever finishes fifth be in the playoffs if they are better than the east’s second best team? The way I see it there are three options when it comes to the CFL playoff format. Let’s break each one down.

1) Keep the Format the Same

There is always the option of leaving the format the way it has been for the past twenty years. While I think the current way of determining the playoffs is outdated and needs to be changed, most owners in the east would disagree with me arguing that one possible off year should not cause the league to change the format.

This style of playoffs may never change if the west continues to be the dominant division. If five teams from the west and only one from the east make the playoffs this would put east teams in financial distress. Keeping both divisions relevant in the playoffs provides one more home game to generate money for two east teams. With no divisions, every playoff game could be hosted by a Western Division team, something the east owners and fans would not be thrilled about.

2) No Divisions

There has been a lot of talk about making the CFL a one division league. This would be detrimental to the league. You can’t have three or four west teams as the top three or four teams in the CFL. It would be disadvantageous for eastern teams to convert to one division unless they figured out a way to play to the caliber of the CFL west, something that seems unlikely in the near future.

A one division league is an intriguing thought though. The schedule wouldn’t have to change very much. Everyone would still play each team twice and the two extra games could be kept as extra rivalry games (e.g. Riders and Bombers or Calgary and Edmonton). I like the thought of this option because it gives everyone a fair shot at making the playoffs, but ultimately I don’t think one division is practical if there is to be growth across the league.

3) Division Hybrid

This is my favourite option for the format. The way it would work is that the division winners would get the one and two seed in the league thus keeping a playoff game in the east for at least one game. After those two teams, whoever had the best four records would claim the final four playoff spots no matter what division they are in. The three seed would play against the six seed and the four seed against five. The lowest remaining seed after the first round of playoff games would then play the first place team and the other winner would play the second place team and then go from there.

This format keeps both divisions’ general managers happy and maintains the rivalries within the divisions. It would improve the competitiveness of the league without completely eliminating divisions. It gives every team a fair shot to make the playoffs without worrying about a crossover or not making the playoffs even with a better record than a team that does. The league should take a good hard look at this style of playoff format.

Randy Ambrosie may not make any changes any time soon but I am sure he is looking to make the league better. Changing to the division hybrid style would make this CFL more competitive and would force eastern teams to improve if they want to accomplish anything in the playoffs. It may not be this season, but I think change is coming. I just hope that it is the right change.

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