Monday, February 2, 2009

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Made In Canada

This one goes out to Ronbo, who asked for my thoughts on developing Canadian QBs…

Despite having a relatively small population, Canada has established itself as a strong sporting nation. Our athletes have risen to the elite levels of virtually every major sport…
Baseball - Larry Walker, Justin Morneau
Basketball – Steve Nash
Golf – Mike Weir
Track – Donavan Bailey
Hockey – pretty much every great player in the history of the sport

Hell we’ve even risen to elite levels in the pseudo sports…
Curling: again pretty much every great player in the history of the sport
Speed Skating: Jeremy Wotherspoon, Catriona Le May Doan

As well as the quasi-sports…
UFC – George St. Pierre
Wrestling – Bret Hart, Chris Jericho

And the “not really sure how it’s considered a sport”…
Racing: Paul Tracy, Jacques Villeneuve
Figure Skating – Kurt Browning, Elvis Stoyko

The funny thing is that there is one sport that Canadians have had difficulty dominating… Canadian football. When you think of the greatest CFL players ever, how many are Canadian? None I’m guessing. Doesn’t it seem a bit odd that in the history of the Canadian Football League, only 2 Canadians have ever been named the League’s Most Outstanding Player (Tony Gabriel and Russ Jackson)? Not being able to dominate at a game you invented is about as embarrassing as a scrawny white soccer player completely dominating the NBA for 2 years and only barely being bested in the 3rd year by a German ogre.

But why is it that our athletes can’t seem to reach the upper echelon of football? Obviously our success in a variety of other sports would indicate that we are not genetically inferior to athletes from other countries. I mean, we even managed to get an Olympic medal in Tae-kwon-do which was invented half way around the world.

What it boils down to is development.

Look at hockey. Canada has the most dominant junior program in the world and churns out more superstars than anyone else. This is because children are fitted with a pair of skates shortly after the umbilical cord is cut and learn the neutral zone trap before they are potty trained. From the instant, they are born Canadians have access to quality coaching and development programs. This is why Canadian hockey is so dominant and the best players from other countries want to come here to train. The developmental football programs don’t even come close. The US, by comparison, has a football program that would rival our hockey program in terms of intensity. Their pee-wee teams have better coaching than some of our university programs. That is why the best players in the sport generally come from the US. It is also why CFL GM’s tend to favour the better developed import players over the homegrown Canadian ones.

In a roundabout way this brings me back to the CFL and its Canadian players…

The league mandated ratio rule has secured a place in the game for Canadians. As a general rule those places are limited to kickers, O-linemen, safeties, fullbacks and a token Canadian receiver. A few players have also managed to crack the spots generally dominated by imports: D-line (Shultz, Johnson), Linebackers (Glatt, O’Shea), DB (Sanchez) and RB (Lumsden).

However the quarterback position has eluded Canadian players thus far (with the exception of Russ Jackson). In fact, I can only think of 4 Canadian QBs that have garnered even mild CFL interest since I’ve been watching: Daryl Leason, Tommy Denison, Jesse Palmer and Teale Orban… and none of them enjoyed any kind of tangible success (unless you consider appearing on that ridiculous show The Bachelor as success… in which case you lead a very sad life). On second thought, how could I forget Laval's standout quarterback Mathieu Bertrand, whose multiple Hec Crighton nominations during an impressive career led him to become one of the finest at his position in the CFL... as a fullback.

Canadian QBs face some tough odds. Not only is there an abundance of better developed QBs down south to compete against, but also there is absolutely zero advantage for a GM who does take a chance on one. QBs don’t count against the ratio so you’d essentially be using up a roster spot on a QB who is way farther behind on the learning curve than the import player the other teams have in that spot (which puts you at a competitive disadvantage). Athletic ability and knowledge of the Canadian game are important but for QBs it’s all about coaching and development and imports have a huge advantage in this regard. So unless the rules are changed GMs are unlikely to change their stance on Canadian QBs.

So hypothetically if you wanted to change to rules so that they encourage the development of Canadian QBs, how would you do it?

The question of course is whether to employ the stick or the carrot method. The carrot method of course being to poke someone in the eye with a carrot until they submit to your will and the stick method being to use said stick to knock someone out and then don their clothing and impersonate them to do as you please.

One approach would be to amend the rule so that non-import QBs count towards the ratio. This way if a GM happened to have an amazing Canadian QB he could play an import somewhere else. This method however has a couple problems. First, unless a GM has a phenom of a QB he likely won’t take advantage of the rule. Also, you would essentially need a back-up Canadian QB too or you would have to juggle your starters if your starting QB went down (either that or start an extra Canadian just in case). It would be a lot like the running back situation right now. Sure GM’s can start a Canadian RB and use an import elsewhere but very few do (more specifically none of the good teams do). So amending the rules this way won’t change a whole lot.

The other approach would be to increase the game day roster to 47 and mandate that the extra spot go to a Canadian QB. This would actually force GMs to have a Canadian pivot (even though they would be under no obligation to actually play them). Now you could argue that all this will accomplish is having GMs sign a token Canadian and never play him or develop him. While that may be true in some cases, a good GM will realize that if he has to have a Canadian QB on the roster he’d be better off having the best one that he can find… very few GMs are content to fill roster spots with talentless players with no potential (well excluding Toronto and Hamilton). Now given that we are essentially starting from scratch in terms of viable Canadian QBs, this approach would take a number of years to yield any kind of tangible results… but it would at least be a start.

So does the Rider Prophet think the CFL should take action to encourage the development of Canadian QBs? Well let me put it too you this way… when homegrown QBs aren’t given a chance but the likes of Spergeon Wynn, Nealon Greene, Mike McMahon, Akili Smith, Michael Bishop and Tee Martin are, something is wrong.


Luke said...

That was very nicely done.

Here's my first question: Do you think there are Canadian quarterbacks who aren't given a chance in favour of mediocre U.S. College cast-offs? I have no idea what the crop of Canadian quarterbacks is like at the moment (other than Orban), but it stands to reason there must be someone born in Canada who can successfully throw a 10-yard out - and with that they'd already have a leg up on Kerry Joseph.

My second question/comment is about athleticism. It seems to me that a Canadian athlete who is athlectic and big enough to realistically play quarterback (6 feet plus, 220 pounds give or take) is probably already playing a sport - he's a defenceman or a left-winger. Why would a talented athlete want to play quarterback when his chances or playing professionally are very, very low? Whereas if he plays hockey, his opportunities are significantly greater.

I agree with you that it should be mandatory to have a Canadian quarterback on the roster. At least then there is some incentive for Canadians to stick with playing quarterback; and some incentive to develop them at the University level.

Quarterback is the premier position in football and it stands to reason that the CFL would want Canadians in those premier positions. For a league that prides itself on being "Radically Canadian", a stand-out Canadian pivot would be an incredible marketing tool and a great story for the league.

In closing, I would like to say that I hope Jesse Palmer's next batch of tooth-whitener contains strychnine - I hate that guy.

Also, I think Daryl Leason was closing in on 40 when he was finally done playing for the Rams

Rider Prophet said...

Your comment about Leason being 40 illustrates one of the major road blocks for Canadian QBs. As Media Consultant explains…
“Canadian development essentially starts in high school - minor football in Canada is a joke. Many players aren't good enough to play university football when they finish high school football. So they go play junior football. Then they go play university football. And all of a sudden they finish what turned out to be a very good college career... at 27 years old. With very few exceptions, quarterbacks up here tend to peak in their late 20's/early 30's - and that's when they've been developing since they were 23. No one's interested in wasting time developing a Canadian quarterback on the off chance that he might play as long as Damon Allen did.

This is why a guy like Orban has a shot - he was a high school standout at quarterback, and half way through the next season he was already starting for the Rams. Now he's done school, and only like 23. So as a development project, he's roughly on par with someone coming up here from the US.”

Currently other than Orban and possibly Josh Sacobie out of Ottawa (who was a runner up for the 2007 Hec Creighton Trophy with Orban). There aren’t really any young promising Canadian pivots, the rest are either too old or not very talented.

You’re right about athleticism, the true physical specimens are either devoted to hockey or smart enough to play a position in football where there might actually be a future (such as receiver).

So until the CFL shows there is a future for Canadian QBs, prospects such as Orban will be few and far between. And until minor football development improves those brave souls that dream of breaking into the pros as a Canadian QB will be so far behind in their development relative to American players that GMs won’t be interested.

Luke said...

You might want to check out the Leader Post website. There's some... umm... interesting news there.

Rider Prophet said...

Yeah I heard... no matter how this story ends it means bad news.

Anonymous said...

I guess since I inspired the blog entry I should add my two cents. I favour a method of adding a forth QB (Canadian of course). It takes a minimum of two years for Americans to adjust to the Canadian game and managers have no problem allowing for that. Why not give Canadian QBs the same two years to develop.

I guarantee that with eight or nine teams drafting a QB sooner or later one would separate himself from the pack and move up the depth chart. No team has to retain the same guy, they can draft a new one every year if they want.

Thanks Prophet for the excellent analysis of 'why not'. It's the first time I've heard a credible reason.