CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie open to discussing playoff format change

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie. (Frank Gunn/CP)

For the past two seasons the CFL’s West Division has been far superior to the East Division, resulting in some concerns about the nine-team league’s playoff format.

Randy Ambrosie knows it’s an issue fans are talking about—especially fans in Western Canada—and the CFL commissioner is open to discussing potential modifications to the current system.

“I would tip my hand and say that I’m a passionate believer in East vs. West…I think it is part of what has made the league special. It has that uniquely Canadian identity,” Ambrosie told Postmedia’s Ted Wyman. “Having said that, I also know that we have to bring modern thinking to everything about our league. I’m willing to have the conversation for sure.”

The current format sees the top three teams from each division make the playoffs, although there is also a crossover scenario where if the fourth-place team from one division has a better record than the third-place team in the other division they take that spot.

As the league enters Week 9 action, the Saskatchewan Roughriders sit fifth/last in the West at 3-4 despite the fact that sub-.500 record would tie them with the Montreal Alouettes for first in the East. So, the Riders wouldn’t qualify for the post-season if the season ended today, while the Alouettes would get a bye into the East Final and host that game.

“We have to be open-minded because the world is changing around us and we don’t want to have our heads in the sand.”

“I’m happy to have that conversation with everyone and I think we should have it,” said Ambrosie, who was introduced as the 14th commissioner in league history back on July 5. “This has been, in the early days, one of the things I’m having the most fun with. I think we should have a national conversation about our game. I think the more people that engage in the conversation, the better. I think the CFL is the perfect expression of what being Canadian is all about. Where that leads us I don’t know but I think those conversations make us better and I’m happy to have them.”

In 2016, each of the top four teams in the West had better records than every team in the East. Ironically, the 8-9-1 Ottawa Redblacks ended up winning the Grey Cup after beating the 15-2-1 Calgary Stampeders.

“I went 16-2 in Edmonton in 1989 and we lost to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who were 9-9, in the Western Final, and they went on to win the Grey Cup,” added Ambrosie, an offensive lineman in the CFL from 1985-93. “I was in Regina this weekend and I saw how proud they are of that Grey Cup. It’s a reminder that regular seasons are important but playoffs matter more. Calgary last year, right? Sometimes there’s just some magic in getting hot at the right time.”

If the league does eventually change its playoff format, the main suggestion being tossed around would be to have the top six teams in the league seeded one through six regardless of division with the top two teams getting a bye into the second round.