CFL

The Rouge: Should teams be mandated to carry Canadian QBs?

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Paul Hoogkamp, TSN.ca
5/10/2010 1:11:53 PM
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With CFL training camps around the corner, it's time to play Jeopardy, CFL-style.

Canadian CFL quarterbacks for 100, Alex.

Answer: The last Canadian quarterback to start in the CFL.

Question: Who is Giulio Caravatta?

The Simon Fraser graduate started for the B.C. Lions in 1996. Since then, the CIS career passing mark has been broken four times but CFL teams remain hesitant to take a chance on homegrown talent at the quarterback position. 

Why has the Canadian quarterback become a member of the endangered species list and what can be done to reverse the trend? Should the league mandate that teams carry a Canadian quarterback on their roster? 

In March, the Toronto Argonauts signed Danny Brannagan after a standout five-year career with the Queen's Gaels, culminating in a Vanier Cup title last season. But history has shown that CIS success does not translate into a long career at quarterback. Just ask Ben Chapdelaine.

Chapdelaine played quarterback at McMaster for five years and won the 2001 Hec Crighton award as the country's best player in his senior year. He was a two-time Yates Cup winner and graduated as the most prolific passer in CIS history with 9,974 yards.

But when he was ready to embark on a CFL career, no teams approached him about any potential opportunities. None.

"When I finished my university days, there definitely was a part of me who thought I could have cracked a roster as a third-string guy," Chapdelaine told TSN.ca. "Perhaps a role in running the opposition's offence during practice, holding for the kicker, public relations in the off-season, that kind of role. Given enough time, there may have been a chance I could have developed into more than that."

While it would seem politically correct to draft a Canadian quarterback and put the time and effort in to develop him into a viable option, let's not forget that CFL teams need to win and win now. General managers and head coaches are judged on wins and losses and not so much on development so going with the known commodity is often the choice.

Currently, 20 players on the 42-man roster must be Canadian, including a minimum of seven starters so some would say the league has gone far enough to promote Canadian talent. But why is it that teams are reluctant to use a Canadian quarterback, the toughest position for a player to learn, especially with all the idiosyncrasies of the CFL game?

A major reason is that carrying a Canadian quarterback does not count towards a team's import ratio. That is, he would not be considered a ratio-buster, allowing teams to play an American at another skill position. If you decide to carry a Canadian quarterback, you would end up with 21 Canadians on your roster. Simply put, there is no competitive advantage for teams to carry a Canadian quarterback.

"Given that most coaches are American (although that is changing slowly), they would prefer to work with QB's they have seen play in the college ranks or that come on recommendations from their American peers," Chapdelaine told TSN.ca. "There may also be a thought that American QB's will be better able to relate to their American teammates and coaches."

There is something to be said for going with the known, or at least familiar commodity, but could teams be missing out on an untapped market? In this year's CFL Canadian Draft, an impressive 36 of the 47 players selected were products of CIS programs which speaks volumes for Canadian talent. But only two of them were quarterbacks, including Marc-Olivier Brouillette out of Montreal, who is being tabbed as a safety or slotback. Chapdelaine feels the CIS could make some changes to improve the pro prospects of Canadian quarterbacks.

"The CIS should allow quarterbacks to attend training camp and spend summers on pro practice rosters without affecting eligibility," said Chapdelaine, who is now an associate director for international relations at York University's Schulich School of Business. "This would help with the athletes' development; something stated often by CFL coaches and GM's as reasons for not signing Canadian players.

"It would mean less teaching/coaching by the teams given the Canadian QB's have been playing the 12-man game for years, understand the coverages, know how to manage the clock and understand all the rules that American counterparts have to learn in their first two weeks of camp. The CIS could also offer more financial support to student-athletes, more media exposure to enhance the visibility and marketability of its players, and more professional development opportunities for coaches."

This may be the biggest difference between the NCAA and the CIS: money. Without big TV contracts and lucrative financial support from boosters and alumni, the CIS would be hard-pressed to come up with the dollars necessary to provide more support for professional development. And some would argue that turning out football players is not the mandate of the CIS.

Chapdelaine feels that if the league was to mandate that every team carry a Canadian quarterback, it would be an opportunity that could benefit all involved.

"Much like the CFL mandates that teams must carry a certain number of Canadians, they should also mandate that they carry a Canadian QB," Chapdelaine told TSN.ca. "More than mandating, the league could specifically pay for the salaries of these Canadian QB's through sponsorship opportunities. Canadian Tire, RONA, or any other Canadian organization already involved with the CFL may be willing to see their sponsorship dollars support a truly Canadian group."

If you were to pay a Canadian quarterback an annual salary of $50,000, it would cost the league or willing sponsors $400,000 to accommodate this concept. Even if this doesn't count against the salary cap, it is still real money that has to paid out. And this money would be going to a player who may not see the field all season.

Having said that, how many Hamilton football fans would have loved to watch Chapdelaine develop from a McMaster standout into a valuable asset for the Tiger-Cats? How many Montreal football fans would have enjoyed seeing Chapdelaine return home and learn from future Hall of Famer Anthony Calvillo?

Or maybe you support the status quo, the Darwinian approach to the quarterback position where it is simply survival of the fittest. If you're good enough, you'll get your shot but no one position should get special treatment over any other.

Keep in mind, if the league office did not mandate 20 Canadians on every roster, how many Canadians would be playing in the CFL? And if teams were not mandated to have seven starters, how many of these Canadians would ever see the field?

Now that you've read the points and counterpoints, we want your input. Do you think the league should mandate that each team carry a Canadian quarterback? Or is 20 spots sufficient to accommodate a homegrown pivot who is good enough to play in the CFL?

Vote in our poll and post your comments in the Your Call feature below.

Ben Chapdelaine (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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