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  • Reeve Batstone

Bye Bye to Bye Weeks

Around the league

For the second week in a row, Tre Ford, efficiently put the Elks in a position to win. This week the Elks defence closed the deal and they upended the toothless Ti-Cats in Hamilton. Ford is protecting the ball well and completed 72% of his passes for a stellar 139 passer rating. In his previous outing against the Winnipeg defence, he completed 75% of his passes for a 110 passer rating. These are excellent numbers, the latter against a great defence. Ford has been exceptional since his return and if not for two egregious drops by his receivers would probably have thrown four rather than two touchdowns against Hamilton. He is making good decisions and throwing very accurately. Edmonton is looking like a different team with him behind centre. It's got to be a tough pill for Chris Jones to swallow but Jones has already had to eat a lot of humble pie this year and must be getting used to it.

Vernon Adams has had the most success against Winnipeg over the last two years, having beaten them in two regular season games. The Bombers are the one team that Nathan Rourke did not beat in two tries. They are a good test for any QB. Neverthelesss, Edmonton lost to Winnipeg because their defence couldn't stop the Bomber's back up QB, who threw four touchdowns in less than three quarters of play.

The Bombers and Argos provide outstanding pass protection. Until Sunday night, I would have said the same about BC. Edmonton not so much.

Ford has an advantage over all other "rookie" QBs in that he played Canadian football rules in university and is well acquainted with the extra DB, the motion and the wider field. The list of highly touted American QBs who could not adjust to the Canadian game is very long. This is rarely mentioned when QBs from USports are discussed. Sometimes they know the Canadian game better than some of their coaches who have just arrived from the US.

Tre Ford has been taken for granted in Edmonton despite being a first round draft choice (lets not forget that the CFL did not get around to drafting another Canadian QB, Nathan Rourke, until the second round). He is now giving them what they desperately need to re-engage their fan base, hope. Ironically, he is now carrying the Elks. He is playing with modest cards in Edmonton but if the Elks are smart they will find a way to better support him, instead of publicly criticizing him. He is only going to get better if they do. If not he will walk at the end of his modest rookie contract. Imagine Ford behind a good offensive line and with recievers who can catch consistently. He doesn't get rattled and he would be a weapon.

He and Rourke grew up in the same region of Ontario where the Buffalo Bills cast a long shadow. Don't be completely surprised if Tre Ford eventually follows Rourke south. He could absolutely be a role playing third QB on many NFL teams. He is more accurate and much faster than Chris Streveler. He is also not afraid to speak up, albeit in a quiet Canadian sort of way. He and Rourke have had to persevere and believe in themselves when others have doubted them. They both exude a quiet, self effacing, confidence but clearly are passionate about the game and winning. They leave the swagger to others. Perhaps a Canadian brand of leadership more characteristic of Russ Jackson than, lets say, a Bo Levi Mitchell or a Joe Theismann.

Ottawa, Calgary, and BC didn't get beaten by Montreal, Winnipeg, and Saskatchewan, they beat themselves. Its a shame, it would have made the divisional races for playoff spots in the East more interesting. Ottawa and Calgary are making a habit out of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Nevertheless, the causes were different, Dustin Crum played well enough for Ottawa to win, Jake Maier did not. He seems to be entering Taylor Cornelius' territory. He looks like he has lost his confidence. The battle of Alberta is going to be interesting on Labour Day.

If you have ever wondered why offensive tackles are so important and highly prized, look no further than the Lions-Riders game Sunday night. Uncharacteristically, BC gave up five sacks and averaged only 3.7 yards per rush. Their short yardage package was a disaster and their right tackle, Kent Perkins, had a game from hell. Perkins had four penalties, including three for holding, some in critical situations. The Lions lost this game, decisively, on the line of scrimmage. The Riders defensive line beat the Lions O-line when it mattered most.

Diversity in Deed

With apologies to Led Zeppelin...

We come to the land of the ice and snow

To the midnight sun where the hot springs flow...

On we sweep with threshing oar

Our only goal will be the western shore

ah ah ah

A couple of weeks ago I discussed the enlightened outreach that Victor Cui was making to new Canadians amidst a horrific Elks season. He is now gone but his initiatives are not forgotten. I won't speculate on why he was let go because only he and the Elks Board chair know for sure. Internal culture nowadays comes with its own rules of engagement. Nevertheless, we are going to explore his innovative outreach further by looking at what another team is doing on the left coast and how the league can benefit from its example.

It's not cheap to fire a club President, like Cui, with time on his contract, however, it's easier than firing a GM or Head coach as their salary does not count against the CFL's salary operations cap. It’s a sore spot for many players as many of the club Presidents make more than the highest paid QB in the league.

Edmonton is broadcasting games in Punjabi. The BC Lions should do this too. When the BC Lions were founded in 1953, one of their founding investors was Jab Sidhoo.

The Lions were community owned in those days (come in Halifax). Sidhoo remained a Lions season ticket holder until his death in 2016 at age 93. You could argue that Amar Doman has renewed Indo-Canadian ownership of the venerable Lions. For years Indo-Canadians have played a huge role in the support of amateur and professional Canadian football. This is especially true in BC with not only Doman and Jab Sidhoo but Farhan Lalji, the controversial David Sidhoo, the irrepressible Bobby Singh and now on the field with Sukh Chungh. Canadian football would be in deep trouble without the participation and leadership of the Indo-Canadian community.

It's not just South East Asians who have made an indelible mark on Canadian football, East Asians have too. Legendary running back Normie Kwong didn't just break tackles, he broke barriers. Any long-time Ottawa football fan knows about Tony Gabriel's last minute catch that won the 1976 Grey Cup, but the turning point in that game was a 78 yard punt return touchdown by former York Yeoman, Bill Hatanaka.

Like Normie Kwong, Hatanaka is breaking barriers as well as tackles. He is currently on the Board of his alma mater, York University, and on the Board of the new Ontario Health Agency.

Inexplicably, Tom Clements was chosen the MVP of the 1976 Grey Cup game despite completing only 11 passes (seven caught by Tony Gabriel) for an embarrassing 33% completion rate, one touchdown and three interceptions. Gabriel was the real MVP of the game and Hatanaka could justifiably have been awarded his outstanding Canadian award.

The Alouette's perennial All-Canadian centre Bryan Chiu has returned to his hometown on the West Coast and is now head coach of Canada's high school football factory, Vancouver College. The list goes on.

Outreach Pays

Part of the reason that the BC Lions are increasing attendance is that they not only support community football but they also are reaching out to immigrant communities, with partnerships with community groups like SUCCESS. SUCCESS helps new arrivals to Canada adapt and get to know their community. It's an incredible non profit organization which offers services in dozens of languages. It's a great fit for a CFL club but it's not fully national in scope. While the Lions and Ti-Cats are not community owned teams, their owners tend to treat them like they belong to the community. Bob Young refers to himself in caretaker terms. They understand that CFL also stands for Community Fun League.

In many ways the CFL is the perfect fit for new immigrants to Canada. Given its affordability it makes a fantastic value proposition for entertaining an entire family. A season ticket to a CFL team can be similar in cost to a single ticket to an NHL or Raptors game. An entire family can realistically attend a CFL game. It seems no family attends an NHL or NBA game together, unless they happen to own the team! The CFL is not corporate, and that is ok.

By far, most immigrants to Canada now come from India, followed by China. As Victor Cui did, and the Lions are demonstrating, therein lies a huge opportunity, for the Argos and, indeed, the entire CFL.

Each year between 100 and 300 thousand immigrants become Canadian citizens. Hundreds of thousands more become permanent residents. They are coming from countries that generally do not have any familiarity with American, let alone Canadian, football. Not only have they never been to a game, they have never seen one. There is low hanging fruit which can be plucked to change this. While SUCCESS does not have a strong presence in the GTA another similar organization, COSTI does. Coincidentally, the MLSE gave COSTI a $500 donation in 2021, so they are already familiar with one another.

MLSE could partner with COSTI to provide new arrivals to the GTA with a pair of complimentary tickets to an Argo game. Canadian football and the Grey Cup, is the oldest national sports tradition in Canada. What better way to welcome newcomers to their new home and to the Canadian experience. Diversity is only strength when it is accompanied by engagement and acceptance. This requires an intentional program and the partnerships to support it.

The CFL office has a similar opportunity in partnership with all its member clubs. When permanent residents become Canadian citizens, the Institute for Canadian Citizenship provides them a Canoo Cultural Access Pass which provides, free of charge. access to museums, parks and cultural events across Canada on a one off basis. The CFL could include a pair of tickets to new Canadians as part of this welcome package.

Community engagement is where success for the CFL lives. It's not hard but you need an intentional outreach program and you must be willing to do the groundwork and invest time in the long term. Outreach like this pays off.

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