Mark Spector's "CFL preview" column, an extended rumination on why it's crazy to pay attention to the CFL, may contain a couple of good points amidst the dozen or so clichés—but isn't the central argument frightfully limp?
Let's face it. The Canadian Football League has always been a bit bush league. That is part of what has made it so lovable.
Where else can you watch your kid's high school teacher protect the quarterback, or your financial planner kicking field goals? What other pro league has players who make less money than many of the fans?
I'll answer Mark's question and we'll see if I can get an answer to mine. What other pro league has players who make less money than many of the fans? Well, let's see: this describes arena football, Australian rules football, county cricket, most of the league soccer being played on the planet at any given moment, minor-league and independent baseball, curling, drag racing, sprint-car racing, rugby (both kinds), most European basketball, Korean and Taiwanese pro baseball, rodeo, most mixed martial arts and professional boxing, club chess, and non-PGA tour golf. Admittedly it took me like two whole minutes to come up with that list. Rich professional athletes must be outnumbered about 10,000 to one by the ones who don't play in leagues or associations that have billion-dollar budgets and global reach. I'm afraid I don't see much hope in arguing with the Pareto distribution.
As far as I know, few other countries feel the need to constantly interrogate their own regional and national sporting preferences the way Canadians do. Nor is it considered a bad thing for basketball and soccer that there are many, many competitive basketball and soccer leagues operating at all levels of attention and remuneration. Which brings me to my question: why would it be inappropriate or shameful for a "bush league" to exist in a country that is, by surface area, roughly 99% actual bush?
[LATE BONUS QUESTION #1: Isn't there a certain... well, let's call it tension... between Spector's demand for full-time officials, better stadiums, etc. and his complaints about tacky advertisements on the field? The CFL's supposed to "mature" and, implicitly, compete with the NFL while playing in a smaller, poorer country and rejecting all the revenue sources that the No Fun League finds beneath its dignity? Given its inherent disadvantages, I would favour the CFL wallpapering the field, the uniforms, and Gainer the Gopher's butt with as many ads per square foot as NASCAR or European hockey. Wouldn't that be much more tolerable than selling out the names of public facilities (already being done) and the championship trophy (we're told it's inevitable)? Is there a modest chance it would yield more money for the league than, say, giving Reebok exclusive control of uniform design?
[BONUS QUESTION #2: Spector complains that the league did a piss-poor job of protecting Ricky Ray's safety through disciplinary incentives. Doesn't he know that about 80% of the Eskimo fan base were probably hoping Ray wouldn't get up from the hit? Amazing but true: the Edmonton talk radio airwaves are still, in 2008, dominated by callers who think the repatriated Jason Maas should be starting ahead of Ray. This after Ray won the championship game (his second) directly over their protests in 2005 and remained pretty much the league's top passer until the 15 sacks a night eventually got to him; meanwhile, Maas was going 5-22 as the starter in Hamilton.]