U SPORTS and CFL missing an opportunity

There are easy ways to help grow football in Canada

Photo provided by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Every year for two weeks, football fans in the prairies drop their oh-so-Canadian politeness to partake in the greatest rivalry in the CFL. When the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Saskatchewan Roughriders take to the field, it can get personal.

Since a young age, I have been raised to dislike the Roughriders – Saskatchewan in general – but I will leave my thoughts about The Wheat Province out of this.

This weekend I watched the Banjo Bowl being played out at Investors Group Field (IGF), with the Bombers soundly beating the Roughriders 48-28. I couldn’t help but recall that the University of Manitoba Bisons had done battle with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in that very stadium a week prior.

Then it hit me: why aren’t the CFL and U SPORTS football teams doing more business together? Everyone knows about the Labour Day Classic and the Banjo Bowl between the Bombers and ‘Riders, so why not add another game to the mix for football fans?

The reason I bring this up is because I know there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Winnipeggers and Saskatchewanians who travel to Regina and Winnipeg, respectively, to watch their teams play. There could be ticket packages set up to encourage fans to come out a day early and see the Bisons and the University of Regina Rams do battle. It would add another dimension to an already fierce rivalry.

The same could happen with the Banjo Bowl, only this time you could call it the University Banjo Bowl, or something to that effect. The Bisons could host the Rams the day before the Bombers host the ‘Riders.

These games would be more local and a better indication of the football prowess of the two provinces, as many Bisons players are from Manitoba and many Rams come from Saskatchewan. The same could be said about Regina’s provincial rivals, the Huskies.

It has never made sense to me that in a city like Winnipeg, the Bisons can never seem to attract more than 2,000 fans to IGF. Offering tickets at a lower price, and included with the purchase of CFL tickets, would get more people out to the university games. Can you imagine the atmosphere of 10,000 rabid football fans out? I am sure that number would be attainable, if not beatable, if the right ticket packages were set up.

For all those CFL fans who watched this past weekend’s Banjo Bowl, there were a few former Bisons on the field – Nic Demski and Kienan LaFrance were playing for the ‘Riders, to name just a few.  The Bisons have produced two NFL players in the past two seasons in David Onyemata and Geoff Gray, never mind the countless CFL players Manitoba has pumped out over the years. Why shouldn’t we sell tickets in a way that lets fans see these guys before they make it big?

As Bison football head coach Brian Dobie told reporters after Gray signed a contract with the Green Bay Packers back in April, “People that aren’t coming out to the games are missing out on a great product. I’m not just talking about Manitoba but there’s guys who will be churned out every year to play in the CFL and the odd guy in the NFL.”

This concept doesn’t have to be applied only in Winnipeg and Regina. There are similar rivalry games happening across the CFL. When the Calgary Stampeders and the Edmonton Eskimos play a home-and-home, why not have the University of Alberta Golden Bears and University of Calgary Dinos play the same weekend as well? The Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Ottawa Redblacks also face off, so throw the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees or Carleton University Ravens on the docket to play the McMaster University Marauders at the same time.

This could also open up the chance for a potential television deal with TSN to broadcast those games. I’m just speculating, but I don’t think that’s outside of the realm of possibility.

There are matchups like this all across the country just begging to be spiced up. It would be great for fans to get into their local university team.

U SPORTS football doesn’t get enough credit for how entertaining it is. Having spent years covering these games, I enjoy them more than the CFL or even the NFL. While I can only speak to the Canada West, as I often do not have enough time to watch teams out east, I know they produce some thrilling football games.

I know U SPORTS will do anything to gain exposure – and rightfully so. But I think one of their best opportunities to grow the Canadian game of football is right under their noses.