Naylor: Why some CFL draft picks are going back to the CIS

Dave Naylor

6/5/2012 2:21:53 PM

When the B.C. Lions used a first-round pick to draft University of Calgary offensive tackle Kirby Fabien back in May, they did so with the hope that he could contribute to their needs as a rookie.

Same for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats when they drafted linebacker Frederic Plesius out of Laval - considered among the most pro-ready players in this year's draft.

But neither Fabien nor Plesius are participating in CFL training camps this spring. And neither are two other draftees, Calgary offensive lineman Carson Rockhill and Laval defensive lineman Arnaud Gascon-Nadon (another Ticats pick).

All of them have opted to pass on an opportunity to play in the CFL this season, returning to school and another year of CIS football instead (CIS players have five years of eligibility, compared to four for players in American college football).

All of which isn't very popular with the CFL teams that drafted them which were apparently under the impression they'd be turning pro this season.

All four attended the CFL's Evaluation Camp back in early March. Plesius said during TSN's draft show that he was eager to get to training camp with Tiger-Cats. Rockhill told the Tiger-Cats leading up to the draft that he would be at training camp. And Fabien accepted a flight to Vancouver to don a Lions jersey for a photo op in the days following the draft.

Yet none of them are to be found this spring.

So why would players pass on a chance to play in the CFL when teams clearly are interested in their services?

Well, there's no simple answer to what's taken place.

Some of the reasons cited are the typical things like the desire to finish school or the chance to compete for a Vanier Cup. Some in the CFL suggest CIS coaches have their own self-interest at heart by encouraging players to defer their CFL opportunity for another year.

And then there's the notion that at least some of these players are dreaming of the NFL and thus don't want to sign a three-year CFL contract that would lock them up until 2015. By returning to school instead, they're hoping to make enough progress over this coming season to earn their shot down south in time for next season.

CFL teams scoff at this rationale, suggesting that players who aren't ready for the NFL near the end of their CIS careers are unlikely to be so with an additional year of university football under their belts. And they say if these players are interested in long-term development, they're best in the CFL where the season is more than twice as long as in the CIS and they'll see better coaching and competition.

Not coincidentally, three of the four CIS returnees are represented by player agent Jonathan Hardaway out of Washington, D.C.

Hardaway earned considerable credibility with CIS players when, two years ago, he managed to land former Concordia linebacker Cory Greenwood with the Kansas City Chiefs. Last year, he helped get former Queen's offensive lineman Matt O'Donnell onto the Cincinnati Bengals practice roster. O'Donnell decided to wait out the NFL lockout last spring instead of reporting to Saskatchewan when he was drafted by the Roughriders.

To say that Hardaway is not popular with CFL general managers is putting it rather mildly (Hardaway did not return a phone call for this column.). And at least some say that having Hardaway represent a player affects where they might draft him.

There's not much the CFL can do about Hardaway, but the league appears determined to reform its draft rules so that players will have to state their intentions and lose the ability to change their minds after the draft.
This would require players to formally enter the CFL draft - the same way players do in the National Football League - with the idea being that publicly declaring their intentions to turn pro would mean forfeiting whatever CIS eligibility they have remaining.

That is, perhaps, unless a team that drafts a player determines it's in his best interests to return for another year of CIS football before playing in the CFL.

Such a measure would require the CIS's co-operation, which is by no means a given.

It's not that the CFL doesn't want to see players finish out their eligibility before becoming professionals. It's just that they'd like a player to commit to his intentions before they spend a draft pick on someone they won't see for at least a year.