CFL is More Fun to Watch than the NFL

By Ben Hamill - June 22 2015

The Canadian Football League season is about to start so it’s time I rehash the many reasons why I prefer Canadian football over American football.  First, let me discuss one reason that is often cited for preferring the CFL that I don’t ascribe to.

Class Warfare Comes to Pro Football

Some CFL fans hate the NFL because the minimum salary is far higher than the highest salary in the CFL.  Class antagonism never gets me going.  The NFL has more fans, more teams, a big television contract, and more elite players.  Anyone who can parlay size, speed, and athletic ability into millions of dollars will get no quarrel from me.  If anything, I would only criticize any professional athlete making immense sums of money who doesn’t find a way to give some back.  The notion that some NFL players are egotistical jerks is nothing more than a tautology.  You’ll find egotistical jerks in every profession.

I Prefer the CFL Because:

  • The field is bigger in every way.  The playing field is 110 yards long vs 100.  The width of the field is 65 yards vs 55.33 yards.  The end zones are 20 yards deep instead of 10.  The larger field creates a more wide open game (next week I’ll use this to segue into why I like European hockey over the NHL).  The larger field allows players to find space and separation more easily in Canada.  This leads to smaller, quicker linebackers and defensive backs in the CFL.

Let’s do a little arithmetic.  The CFL field is 110 by 65 yards = 7150 square yards.  The NFL field is 55.33 by 100 = 5333 square yards.  Thus, the CFL field is a full 40% larger than the NFL field.  Add into the mix the CFL end zone which is 10 yards deeper and you have far more opportunities to score a touchdown from the red zone in the CFL.

  • There are 12 players on each side.  This gives offences more options and puts more pressure on the defence.
  • The neutral zone at the line of scrimmage is a full yard rather than just the length of the football as in the NFL.  This means that CFL linemen generally have to be quicker than in the NFL.  Quicker means smaller.  Because CFL teams run so much less than in the NFL, there are far fewer offensive plays that finish near the line of scrimmage.  The type of defensive lineman in the NFL whose primary job is to “clog up the middle” doesn’t have much of a place in the CFL.
  • There are only three downs in the CFL.  This is usually cited first in comparisons between the leagues and it creates a few major differences between the leagues.  One, the CFL has less running.  This is obvious.  It also creates more situations where a team will “go for it” on third down.  The CFL game seems to move faster because there are fewer runs but the game takes longer to play because the clock stops after incomplete passes whereas it doesn’t stop after a run where the running back is tackled in bounds.  So a strange phenomenon occurs: the game seems to move along at a better clip but takes much longer to play.
  • Offences have only 20 seconds to get a play off while the NFL gives teams 45 seconds.  Once again, the game moves along faster.  There are far more plays in a CFL game than in an NFL game for this and the above reason.  People such as yours truly, who follow football because they like the game, enjoy the CFL because it provides more football.
  • The CFL is less violent than the NFL.  There are fewer chances for a player to make paralyzing hits in the CFL.  This is related to the need for players who can cover more ground, meaning smaller, swifter players.
  • There is no fair catch on punts and the punting team must give the receiving player five yards to catch the ball so he doesn’t risk serious injury.  This rule means that there are more punt returns.  Punt returns are among the most exciting plays in football and fair catches are among the most boring.
  • The single point.  Technically this is called the rouge.  Rumour has it that the flag that signaled the single point was red, ergo the name.  The fact is that I have almost never heard it called the rouge outside of Quebec.  The one-point rule makes game strategy much different than in the NFL.  Just as the two-point conversion rule changed late-game dynamics in the NFL, so would a single point rule change strategy.
  • Any offensive player who is behind the line of scrimmage can be running forward when the ball is snapped.  In the NFL, only one player can be moving before the snap and he can only move laterally, not forward.
  • The wider field means that the hash marks are also wider.  When a team is considering a field goal close to the end zone, they must also take into account the bangle of the kick.  The goalposts are at the front of the end zone in the CFL making some field goal angles even sharper.

There are Far More Great Players in the NFL

It has been said that the difference between players in a top league and a lower league in any team sport is consistency as often as it is speed, strength, or overall athletic ability.  I’m not an expert player evaluator so I will leave that aspect of comparison to others.  But many players have commented about the athletic skills of the average player in Canada.  This leads to the conclusion that what really separates the leagues are the two or three superstar players on every NFL roster.  These elite players earn so much more than a CFL team could pay that there’s no question which league will get them.  For many other players, there is little to separate them athletically but the far larger CFL field means that CFL teams look for a sleeker look in many positions such as offensive and defensive lines and linebacker.  CFL teams recruit players who can’t fit into the NFL for size reasons, not because they are inferior athletes.

Pushing at Windmills

By now you must have concluded that I prefer the rules that CFL teams play by.  I can dream about the NFL playing by CFL rules even if it is unlikely ever to happen.