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Is the crossover rule enough for the CFL’s playoffs?

author: nathan mccarville | sports writer

Maybe its time to rethink conferences in a nine-team league/CFL

With the east being as bad as it is, is it time for a change?

With the Roughriders most likely prospect of making the playoffs being through crossing over to the eastern division via the crossover rule, the need to question the current setup of the CFL’s two-division system arises. The crossover rule allows a fourth-place team in a stronger division to take the third-place spot of a weaker division if the team from stronger division is ahead of the current third-place team in the weaker division.

Though this appears to be a good system for teams to make the playoffs, as it is based on merit rather than their own position within their division, the way this rule has been used illustrates a crucial flaw within the CFL’s competitive structure.

Since the crossover rule was implemented in 1997, nine western division teams have made use of this rule, taking the third-place division in the Eastern division playoffs whereas no Eastern division team has ever been able to make use of the rule.

The Roughriders current record in the season against their own Western division is 3 wins and 5 losses, whereas their record against the eastern division is four wins and one loss. The current record points to the appearance that the Roughriders are unable to effectively compete against their own division as well as the eastern division’s inability to gain a foothold in the league when playing against the west.

A particular question arises, is the crossover rule enough to maintain the appearance of fair competition in the CFL? Currently, every team in the western division is sitting ahead of every team except one in the eastern division in terms of wins and losses. In fact, there is not team in the east that has a record better than a .500 win percentage. So far in the season, teams in the east have won five games against the western division, one tie with the western division, but the have lost to the west teams 24 times so far in the season. The current statistics point to a gross amount of inequality in the league between the two divisions with much of the talent in the division seeming to concentrate everywhere but within the eastern teams.

With this current structure of playoff competition and qualification, teams that would otherwise never make the playoffs still make due to having the best record in that particular division. The current system does not provide the opportunity for the best teams in the league to play one another for the Grey Cup, nor does it provide the environment for a completely merit-based competition for teams to play in the place of their overall standings in the league.

Though the divisional system does allow for certain equality in the league, allowing teams that would otherwise not get a chance to compete for the cup to do so.

This system gives an Eastern division teams the chance to beat the odds by playing teams with a superior record and supposedly a superior roster in the playoffs, facilitating the classical underdog narrative that many sports fans hold so dear from movies and memories.

A recent example of this was, the 2016 Grey Cup where the Ottawa Redblacks, who had a record of eight wins and nine losses beat the Calgary Stampeders in the Grey Cup game, despite the Stampeders having a record of 15 wins and 2 losses. The Redblacks were said to have no place in this game, though were able to beat Calgary despite the appearance of inferiority to the domineering Albertan team.

Despite these romanticized retrospectives of what could happen, the subject still needs to be addressed. Ted Wyman in his National Post article entitled “West Division’s persistent dominance shows why CFL should finally scrap its playoff format,” he suggests that the CFL should maintain the east and west divisions, but for the playoffs, have one division so that there can be absolute fairness and teams can play in the playoffs based purely on their statistics throughout their regular season.

The idea of the east-west rivalry has been debunked by the performance of either division and it seems that there no longer exists the possibility of complete fairness in terms of how a team can get into the playoffs considering the current circumstances of the CFL.

However, another question arises, what is fairness? Is it to allow a few teams to dominate the playoffs for years and box out the eastern teams so that their franchises can no longer get a chance at a victory or even the chance to compete in the playoffs?

About Nathan McCarville

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