The start of the 2008 professional football season is nine days away!
In Canada, at least.
Next Thursday, June 26, marks the first week of regular season action in the Canadian Football League. In their final pre-season tune-up, our across-the-border neighbors - the Toronto Argonauts - will face the Hamilton Tiger-Cats before beginning their regular season on the road in Winnipeg. Argos fans everywhere are feeling now exactly what we feel in early September - the dawning of a fresh football season.
Why, then, can't the writers covering the team write about... well, the team?
There's actual news to report in the CFL at this point - such as the Calgary Stampeders' re-signing of former NFL wide receiver Ken-Yon Rambo, or the Montreal Alouettes naming Marcus Brady as their starting (but not exclusive) quarterback. But for a league that doesn't need those covering it to try to legitimize it - because it's both quite popular and never going to rival the NFL in popularity - Canadian football beat writers sure can't stop focusing on the NFL.
Even Small Stories Making Waves
When the focus should be on the upcoming CFL season - and to be fair, the majority of coverage is focused on that exact topic - there's still a rather large chunk of coverage dedicated to NFL matters. Never mind the Bills in Toronto Series for a moment; former Bills head coach and GM Marv Levy made waves when he visited the Montreal Alouettes' training camp last Wednesday. Levy, who prior to his career in the NFL was the GM of the Alouettes, and his appearance was a big story in Canada, and it's still receiving prominent exposure a week later.
Clearly, Levy's story pales in comparison to other NFL-related coverage by the Canadian press. Are their NFL-to-Canda fears unfounded? Certainly not. But there comes a point where covering the issue day in and day out feeds the issue and gives it a life of its own. Let's examine.
Bills in Toronto: "Greed", "Invaders" are Buzzwords
As far as I can tell, the Bills won't be playing football in Toronto for another two months - and the Argos are about to start their regular season. Yet respectable writers like Steve Milton and Perry Lefko are focusing on the Bills' "upcoming" series. Writes Milton, in an article titled "Greed has no bounds":
Consider this. The Argos have only 10 scheduled games at Rogers Centre this year, spread over nearly six months.
Today, at 11 a.m. the Bills Toronto Series organizers are bringing Bills' safety Donte Whitner, and other sundry types to the dome. They're going to unveil a local initiative with Toronto area high schools, the kind of thing the CFL and NFL used to partner together.
This made-for-media event is being staged a full two months before the first Bills' game here, but two days before the Argos' pre-season game against the Ticats. It will be spread across radio, TV and the local bugles today and tomorrow, the 48 hours when most walk-up sales are made for CFL games.
Still think this bunch doesn't want to damage the Argonauts?
Lefko makes a more general argument, citing the Bills - in conjunction with broken down talks between the NFL and the CFL - as reasons that Canada's football league may be in trouble in his article "Invaders from the south":
But the Bills coming to Toronto and the threat that might present are gaining as much attention in the media as training camp stories – and from some interesting sources. The National Post, a CFL sponsor, has printed passionate articles from both Cohon and B.C. president Bob Ackles extolling the virtues of the league. It is somewhat unusual to have members of a league, in particular its commissioner, writing articles that are designed to promote the league and, indirectly, defend it against the invasion of the big, bad NFL.
This is coming at a time when the CFL and the NFL have broken off talks on a new agreement for reasons which are not entirely clear, but surely have to do with the CFL saying "thanks, but no thanks" to what the NFL offered.
It's hard to bash Canadian writers for penning neurotic articles such as these two, because as Buffalo fans, we're the one other group who doesn't want to see the Bills head further north. Not only are Buffalo politicians lobbying to keep the series temporary, but Canadian legislators - such as Larry Campbell - are working diligently for the same goal.
The argument I'm attempting to make here is a simple one: stop making public knowledge what's already public knowledge. Focus on covering the CFL. This is a Bills issue because the Bills are the first to cross the border for a regular season NFL game, but it's a broader issue because the CFL is in trouble when it really shouldn't be. Canadian football is a good product - and yes, the league may be in trouble, but what league hasn't been in trouble? Even the NFL has had its tenuous moments (and continues to have them). Ultimately, it's the job of not only the CFL, but those who cover it, to make more people realize that they already have a good thing going. Paranoia over what may be may sell papers, but ultimately, it doesn't do any good for anyone involved.
I'm a closet CFL fan. In my mind, the Bills in Toronto Series should not only be giving Canadian football fans a first-hand glimpse at NFL football, but it should be exposing NFL fans to a brand of football that they may not be familiar with. The more that the focus is on the future, however, the less likely that is to happen.