CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie floating new playoff format to fans

Randy-Ambrosie

Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie (Todd Korol/CP)

TORONTO — Randy Ambrosie has started floating a new playoff format to CFL fans.

On Saturday night, the CFL commissioner began his annual cross-country trek in Ottawa by offering a new twist on the league’s current post-season format. Under the formula, the East and West Division first-place finishers would secure opening-round byes.

The next top four finishers — regardless of division — would claim the remaining four berths, with the third- and fourth-place clubs hosting the bottom two in semifinal action on a Saturday. The following day, the franchise with the best regular-season record would choose which opening-round winner it wanted to face in its conference final.

“It’s just so interesting because there’d be the fan intrigue of which team is going to be chosen,” Ambrosie said during a telephone interview Tuesday prior to meeting with Montreal football fans. “Because your top-six teams are all getting a shot at the playoffs we think it could actually keep more teams in the playoff hunt longer and create more intrigue.

“Obviously being in fifth place would be better than sixth, being fourth would be better than fifth. We’re thinking it could create more fan engagement and more interest in the later-season games.”

Ambrosie said the new format was the brainchild of Winnipeg president Wade Miller and has the support of the league’s innovation committee, which includes representation from the CFL Players’ Association. The proposal is expected to be presented to the league’s board of governors March 17.

“By March 17th I will have criss-crossed the country and had the chance to share what the feedback was from fans and we’ll have seen the reporting on it,” Ambrosie said. “Then we’ll take it to the governors and put it on the table for them to consider.

“We’ll make a decision, I believe, in March on whether we’re going to go forward with it and if so, are we going to go in 2020 or wait until 2021? Really right now what we’re doing is getting an opportunity to get a chance to hear what CFL fans think and give them a role to play in shaping the future of our league.”

The CFL’s current East-West playoff format has long been a bone of contention with fans, especially those in Western Canada who’ve grown tired of seeing Eastern squads with inferior records reaching the post-season.

In 1996, the CFL instituted the crossover rule. It stipulates a fourth-place team in one division that has more points than the third-place squad in the other crosses over to the other division at the end of the regular season and assume the No. 3 playoff seed.

Since the rule was adopted, all crossover teams have come from the West. Western clubs are 5-7 in East Division semifinal games but 0-5 in conference finals.

Even if the CFL board votes to adopt the new format, Ambrosie said that doesn’t mean it will be forever.

“We can announce we’re going to do two seasons of this and see how it works,” he said. “We can always go back to the old way.

“If you state that up front . . . then it allows us to experiment with some new ideas and to see how we combine these new ideas to engage our fans.”

On Monday, free-agent Derek Dennis — the CFL’s outstanding lineman in 2016 — signed a contract with the XFL’s reserve team. He became the league’s second high-profile player to do so after veteran S.J. Green.

Green signed his XFL deal Feb. 10, the day before the start of CFL free agency, after being released Feb. 7 by the Toronto Argonauts. The Seattle Dragons added the six-foot-three, 216-pound Green — a three-time Grey Cup champion, to their roster Feb. 11.

Both Green and Dennis are proven CFL performers. Over 13 seasons in Canada, Green has amassed 716 receptions for 10,222 yards with 60 TDs and is an eight-time all-star.

Dennis has spent four of his five seasons in Canada with the Calgary Stampeders, helping them a Grey Cup title in 2018. Green believes more CFL players will be making the jump.

“There will be more to follow,” he tweeted.

Ambrosie has taken notice.

“My No. 1 priority is to focus on our business plan and build the biggest, strongest global CFL possible,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you don’t pay attention to what’s going on around you and obviously whenever a really good player finds a different league it’s a cause for concern.

“We don’t want to lose great players but at the same time we’ve got to be very excited about the path we’re on and stay focused on building our own best league. That’s literally where my mind is focused every day but I can tell you it’s (losing veterans to XFL) is very important and I pay attention to it.”

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