The Ides of March Strike the CFL and hey, how about televising pre-season games on Facebook?

March 14, 2018 - 12:51pm

In this CFL off-season, after some pretty good bursts of energy, you can see why in mid-March the Romans killed Julius Caesar. They were desperate for some action with the CFL training camps about 79 days away and Mark’s CFL Week in Winnipeg starts March 23.

Marcus Thigpen of the Riders made the news for testing positive for a performance enhancing drug, dehydrochloromethyltestosterone, in November. While you can shake your head at the stupidity of taking a steroid, considering Thigpen was out of football and getting older, he probably thought anything that could help would be worth it.

Well, he was suspended for two games and while there are those who like to point to the Riders and say cheaters, steriod use is not unknown in the CFL as other players have also been caught. With the CFL now doing drug testing and having a policy, players will have to learn to do it the right way or not get paid because missing game cheques in the CFL hurts in the pocket book.

Potentially bigger news will come on Thursday when the Supreme Court of Canada is expected to announce whether former CFL player Arland Bruce will be granted leave to appeal British Columbia court rulings in a concussion-related lawsuit against the CFL and former commissioner, Mark Cohon. Bruce filed a suit about four years ago looking for compensation for what he said were brain injuries as a result of concussions he suffered during his 14 year CFL career.

Bruce wants to go to court because the amount he receives in damages would potentially be bigger while the CFL wants this to go to an arbitration hearing which might be constrained in how much it would pay out, especially if those constraints are outlined in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. This is apparently the legal action BC Lions owner, David Braley, is citing as a chlling factor in selling the club, especially if the CFL is taken to court, all the members of the CFL, including the Lions, might be asked to pony up for damages and Bruce’s suit might open the door for other class action suits.

Even if Bruce does win the right to take this to court, it will take some time for this to work its way through the court system and the implications for this would extend far beyond the football sphere. In theory hockey players or anyone involved in contact sports would be able to claim damages and the liability costs could force many sports organizations to reconsider their operations.

So with that anouncement pending, the CFL is holding its second CFL Week in Winnipeg starting March 21. Having taken in the inaugural CFL in Regina last year, I can wholeheartedly recommend this event for CFL fans in Winnipeg, including the CFL Combine March 24.

The CFL is taking a page out of the NFL playbook and promoting the CFL Combine where players are tested in a variety of categories and fans get to indulge their armchair GM in seeing which players will make the leap from college to pro ranks. It is not as easy as it looks as physical testing is just a part of what is involved. There is the interview process where players show how well they can learn and there is the background stuff where a player’s maturity, or lack thereof, will enter into the equation of future employment.

The good about this is while fans need to register for tickets, especially for the combine, the tickets are free with the exception of the Hall of Fame Announcement which kicks things off on March 21. The FanFest kicks off on March 22 at the RNC Convention Centre at 3 pm with a variety of exhibits and interactive displays including making the call on plays and stuff for the kids.

There will be a regional combine held at Subway Soccer South from 9 am-4 pm and a Girl’s flag football clinic at the RBC Convention Centre from 630 pm to 10 pm.

The FanFest takes centre stage on March 23 from 3 pm to 9 pm and will feature a Kid Zone, Player and Alumni autograph signing, Grey Cup Photo Op, Twisted Tea Fan Cave, Football Frenzy Field, Virtual Reality Football Simulator, panel discussions with current and former CFL stars and a Canadian Football Hall of Fame display.

The National Combine gets underway on March 24 and is a two day affair. The 40 yard dash goes from 10 am to noon on March 24 and the bench press, which can be truly impressive, goes from 7-8:30 pm at the RBC Convention Centre. The FanFest on March 24 runs from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The combine wraps up on March 25 at the University of Winnipeg with the broad and vertical jump from 9-10:30 am and then the individual and one on one drills from 10:30 am to 2 p.m. These drills are often a pretty good gauge of whether a player’s stock goes up or down when competing against his peers.

Now not all of the top CFL prospects will be at the combine. Three offensive linemen - David Knevel, Trey Rutherford and Ryan Hunter – won’t be there, preferring instead to show their wares at their respective American universities Pro Days where draft eligible college players can demonstrate their stuff for pro scouts.

These players are looking to angle for an invite or potential pick in the NFL draft and the practice in the CFL is to pick those players chosen by the NFL later on and hold their rights if those players come back from the NFL. With the emergence of Brandon Bridge and Andrew Buckley as Canadian quarterbacks, there will be Christian Strong of Seton Hall and Noah Picton of the University of Regina competing while in the one on one drills, they will be joined by Laval’s Hugo Richard, Saskatchewan’s Kyle Siemens, Saint Mary’s Kaleb Scott and Queen’s Nate Hobbs.

If last year was any indication, the CFL combine stuff should air on the CFL website and having taken in the inaugural CFL Week, I can wholeheartedly recommend this for CFL fans in Winnipeg. Considering how this off-season has started to drag, something like this is a welcome break from the seemingly endless off-season.

Which brings me to something interesting. TSN released its pre-season CFL broadcast schedule. The CFL is just broadcasting four of the eight pre-season games - Sun., May 27, 5 p.m. EST: Saskatchewan Roughriders at Edmonton Eskimos

 Thur., May 31 7:30 p.m. EST: Montreal Alouettes at Ottawa Redblacks
 Fri., June 1, 7:30 p.m. EST: Toronto Argonauts at Hamilton Tiger-Cats
 Fri., June 8, 10:30 p.m. EST: Winnipeg Blue Bombers at B.C. Lions.

Now one of the discussion threads about starting the season earlier has run into the argument that a new start would run into a potential run by  a Canadian NHL team that would take away fan interest. And I notice that TSN is also broadcasting the soccer World Cup from Russia in June, which would probably also interfere with broadcasting all of the CFL preseason games.

Which brings up a news story that Facebook will be broadcasting 25 Major League Baseball games this year. This is interesting because as cable TV subscriptions go down, sports leagues are looking at getting their product on all available platforms and while cable TV has gone down, internet subscriptions have gone up and a lot of people use Facebook.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats have broadcast preseason games not carried on TSN on their own website and if the CFL is interested in expanding its footprint and perhaps following the NFL in the way they promote their game, coming up with an innovative proposal to have some CFL exhibition games carried on a platform like Facebook should be investigated by the league.

The Riders have been busy with their ongoing free agent camps through the US and they have apparently had people at a few regional combines in Canada. To get an idea of what might be going on with the Riders, it helps to monitor social media and seeing Eddie Steele make appearances with the Red Cross while being billed as a Rider although his signing has not been formally announced or not by the club makes one think that Steele may well be back with the Riders this year.

Offensive lineman Bruce Campbell is still unsigned although he, like Thigpen, has been suspended for two games for using performance enhancing drugs. The interesting thing with Campbell is if he used the PEDs to increase strength, which seems logical for an offensive lineman, if he now goes off them, will there be a noticeable decrease in his strength? This may be giving teams pause, especially since if they sign Campbell, he will have to sit two games and they will still need to have someone signed to fill his position until Campbell is ready to step in.

The other speculations comes from 3DownNation which has former Rider linebacker Henoc Muamba going to Montreal to cash in. The Riders let Muamba go for salary cap reasons and feeling for what they were paying Muamba, they could maybe get someone in who is provides a similar level of play at a more favorable salary.

For Montreal, looking at starting from Ground Zero from the tire fire that was Kavis Reed last year, Muamba is a high profile signing for a defense that is definitely a work in progress. Considering Muamba has been in Montreal before, this is probably not a bad move for him.

So until next week…

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