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Scholarship and The Canadian Football League

The Canadian Football League (CFL) season begins this weekend and, despite it is lengthy history and strong ties to Canadian identity and heritage, there is surprisingly little scholarship about the CFL – and, I suppose I’ve always wondered why this rich source of material has generated so little attention.

If you are unfamiliar with Canadian football – and the CFL in particular – there are sources of background information. There are a few key points, however.  First, it has been around for a while – in various guises, mind you – and pre-dates the National Football League (NFL) in the US by quite a distance.  Secondly, though it looks quite similar to NFL/American football, it has many rule variations – such as one fewer down, a wider and longer field – that make it a different game to that which is played in the US.  It also has a quota system for Canadian players – so, teams must field a certain number of Canadians rather than simply employ plentiful (and cheap) American talent.  Finally, the championship game/trophy – the Grey Cup – will be awarded for the 101st time this season and is one of the country’s most beloved Canadian sporting traditions, adding to the whole history/heritage dynamic of the sport and league.

The CFL is also a bit of a cultural marker for many Canadians, as the game’s differences are, perhaps, part of a microcosm of Canadians’ impressions of themselves vis-a-vis the US.  To wit, to the untrained eye, Canadian football and American football are the same.  However, there are subtile differences in the Canadian game which makes it unique and distinctive from its American counterpart.  These distinctions, emphasized through some CFL marketing slogans such as the This is Our League campaign, have positioned support for the CFL as a form of nationalism.

I can’t claim to be a CFL expert by any means, but it is surprising that there hasn’t been more written about the CFL.  In academia, I only know of a few history/sociology/geography articles that deal with the CFL (though, I am sure there may be others).  This paper, in particular, is cited frequently in interdisciplinary sport scholarship, as it deals with history and sociology (not to mention heritage’s cousin, nostalgia).  There are some popular coffee-table-esque tomes available, a few memoirs from past players, coaches, and commissioners, and there’s even a self-published (and, from what I understand, thoroughly researched) history of the CFL – but, remarkably little else from what I can tell.  From my vantage point, the CFL is really ripe ground for budding sport researchers of all stripes.  I am certainly trying to incorporate aspects of the CFL into my own teaching and research. I use the CFL in both my sport tourism and heritage tourism classes at Clemson and, in a forthcoming paper in Tourism Geographies with Dr. Tom Hinch from the University of Alberta, we look at the Grey Cup festival as a type of heritage sport tourism.  It is a source that simply provides some really good, and very relevant material.  Yet, it is largely ignored…and I don’t know why.

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