Danny Maciocia: CFL Needs to Create Star Canadian Quarterback

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If Danny Maciocia gets his way, the Canadian Football League will introduce roster changes to encourage teams to start using Canadian quarterbacks.

The league has yet to produce a marquee homegrown franchise pivot since the retirement of Hall of Famer Russ Jackson nearly a half century ago. And some, like the 2005 Grey Cup winning head coach, are beginning to insist that it’s time for the league to do something about it.

After all, you don’t need to watch too many Toronto Argonauts or BC Lions games to notice the empty seats: the league isn’t exactly filling the joint. With apologies to Larry Jusdanis, Giulio Caravatta, and Gerry Dattilio (who played quarterback and other positions when men were men), the game just hasn’t cranked out a home-grown franchise legend like that since colour TV sets became the norm – seriously, you have to watch in black and white to see Russ Jackson at his best.

And while the CFL’s issues in selling the 3-down game to Toronto extend far beyond this conversation, the absence of a Canuck quarterback showing young fans that they too could play in the starring role isn’t helping.

There are plenty of excuses. A smaller talent pool in this country than stateside; Canada is hockey, not football; Canadians just don’t make good quarterbacks; blah blah blah. The biggest reason is that while the league rewards teams for playing Canadians at every other position, unbelievably there is no incentive for playing Canadian quarterbacks. Each roster needs to include 7 Canadian starters at any position other than quarterback. That position is exempt from any import or non-import roster requirements. It’s peculiar rule which has lasted for decades and the results have been devastating.

“It’s a subject that’s very dear to me,” said Maciocia, who now coaches Canadian college ball with the University of Montreal Carabins. He thinks changing the roster import ratio is long overdue and should have been done years ago.

And he should know. Having been a CFL General Manager, Head Coach, Offensive Co-ordinator and Canadian College Head Coach, he’s seen it from all sides. The CFL switched from carrying two quarterbacks per roster in the late ‘90s to carrying three by 2002. Maciocia calls it a golden opportunity wasted. “The logical thing to have done back then was to designate that third quarterback position to a Canadian. By doing so you’re going to have an opportunity to develop them, you’re going to have an opportunity to nurture them, you’ll give them an opportunity to practice and play in preseason games.”

Import ratio changes are the centre of his argument but he goes even further. “There was also a thought on the table not too long ago to just eliminate the extra point after a touchdown and make it a mandatory two-point conversion, and your third quarterback would have to come in and execute a play.”

If the guy who built the offence that converted Ricky Ray from a Lay’s potato chip factory worker to a sure fire future hall of famer sees the value in using Canadian quarterbacks, why hasn’t the league done it yet? The answer, Maciocia says, is a lack of political will. “I’ve mentioned this to Mark Cohon and even Tom Wright (both ex-CFL Commissioners from the 2000s) in the past. They’ve got to step forward and show some leadership on this issue. The only position that if you dress a Canadian it does not affect the import ratio is at quarterback. Every other position on that field would be affected with Canadian starter.

“It’s unfortunate because we’re discouraging kids that wanna play at the next level that if you’re a quarterback potentially at U Sports [the new name for Canadian college football] today, it could be a dead end for you. So you start thinking, ‘Hey, should I be changing positions in order for me to have an opportunity to play at the next level?’ And I think that the CFL and the team presidents need to come together to encourage Canadian kids to play the position of their choice.”

The league has tried training camp internships for this before but he says it’s not nearly enough. “We’re giving a lot of lip service by inviting them to training camp but it’s strictly an invite. They come in and throw an extra couple of balls and get some film work in and then they’re gonna get shipped out to their respective schools. But there has to be something on the line.”

It annoys him and others to see states like Montana and North Dakota with a combined population of about 2.5 million produce star quarterbacks Dave Dickenson and Carson Wentz in the past 20 years, while our own country of 35 million people with our own league hasn’t produced one in 50 years.

“This is all doable but I think right now there’s a bug with the leadership of the CFL and the team presidents and if they can get their heads around this and commit to this then it’s gonna happen.” The coach points out that non-import quotas have turned Canadian running backs from a rarity to great marketable stars like Jon Cornish, Jerome Messam, and Andrew Harris.

The problem is so bad, Maciocia predicts the Canadian college draft in May isn’t going to offer any solutions either. “They don’t even look at quarterbacks. Or if they do, they’re going to ask the question, ‘Can he play another position for us?’ And we have to change that mindset.” It’s a familiar stereotype black quarterbacks fought for years which the CFL helped change. Ironically, the league hasn’t done anything to encourage kids in their own backyard to take part.

But the coach hasn’t given up on a light coming from the end of the tunnel. “We don’t have to wait another 40-50 years before we see another Russ Jackson or someone like Russ Jackson to have an opportunity to establish himself in the league.”

One can only hope.

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