Head to Head: CFL vs. NFL


Which league is better?

Head to Head is a new sports feature where two authors verbally clash, and you get to pick the winner. This week, Colin Buchinski is arguing the CFL is superior to the NFL while Dietrich Neu is backing the NFL.


Colin Buchinski

Our balls are bigger, our field is wider and longer, we’re radically Canadian and proud of it.

The Canadian Football League is an institution in Canada. It is special, unique and something we can truly call ours. In Saskatchewan, football is religion. The CFL is truly a fantastic league and in my opinion, miles ahead of the National Football League in terms of excitement and entertainment value. In terms of talent, the CFL may be far behind the NFL; however, it is clear that these players love the game.

Many of the players earn an annual salary lower than the average human being, but are still out there ripping up the turf every weekend based on their love for the game. These guys live for the game and it is a passion many Canadians share.

The CFL features many rules that differentiate it from the bland, American-style game. The NFL has a 40-second play clock. Half the time when I’m watching the NFL, I’m sitting around waiting for something to happen. What irks me the most is when it’s a close game in the final moments, I am treated to a kneeling festival right until the final gun. In the CFL, a game can be won or lost in a matter of seconds. A game is almost never out of reach in the CFL.

We saw this in Week 1 of the CFL, when the Saskatchewan Roughriders came back from 17 points down to win a double OT thriller, something you’d never see in the NFL, because whichever team wins the coin toss in overtime gets a couple first downs and then kicks a chip shot for the win. The NFL overtime rules are in dire need of a change. The NFL is introducing a new rule in the playoffs this year, which prevents a team from winning by a field goal on their first overtime possession. It’s a band-aid for a bullet wound. Overtime will still be unfair and boring.

In the CFL and NCAA, overtime is spectacular to watch. It is a back and forth, see-saw type battle that gets the fans jumping out of their seats.

The CFL is a wide-open game with lots of room to work on offence. The field is both longer and wider, giving receivers more room to do what they do best: catch balls and make plays. This was something I didn’t see while watching the New York Jets last week, who are supposedly one of the better teams in this league. The CFL also features a larger end zone, creating the ability for exciting passing plays in the red zone.

On special teams, almost every time I see a punt in the NFL, the returner waves for the fair catch. How exciting is that? I’d rather be at night class … I kid, I kid. In the CFL, the return game is one of the most exciting aspects of the game. Some criticize the no yards rule, but I embrace it. Every time the ball is punted away, there is an opportunity to see something fantastic happen. In the NFL, they punt it out of bounds half the time.

Another unique part of the CFL game is the rouge, the opportunity to punt or kick the ball through the end zone for a single point. Some see this as rewarding failure, but it really adds a new element to the game. It is sometimes game changing, just ask Ken Miller. After all, he did almost blow an important divisional game because of this play.

Watching the CFL every week as a Canadian is an absolute treat. It makes me proud to be Canadian. The CFL is a very great part of our heritage and is growing more and more every year. The Grey Cup is an event that brings all Canadians together under one roof. A single game can bring this much diversified nation together as one. This is our league. Let’s leave the NFL for our south-of-the-border friends.


Dietrich Neu

The CFL has been around for 53 years and counting. Over that time it has become this country’s second most popular sports league, trailing only the NHL. Although in terms of popularity the CFL is the football king of Canada, the National Football League to the south is far from out of the running. 

Both the CFL and NFL seasons overlap to some extent, meaning fans sometimes have to choose one or the other. This has inevitably lead to heated debates over which league is better.

It’s clear that most people in this country would pick the CFL as their preferred football league. But what are the reasons for that? Are there any tangible facts? Or is it simply a matter of Canadians supporting something that’s Canadian, just because it’s Canadian?  We love to bash Americans for being overly patriotic, but honestly, we Canadians love to fall head over heels with anything red and white.

But I’m going to put the popularity argument to aside here, and focus on points that can be evaluated. After all, an appeal to popularity is no reason to favour one proposition over another. The CFL/NFL debate should be no different.

The most obvious difference between the two leagues is the money involved. The NFL has billions of dollars coursing through its veins and the CFL has pocket change compared to that. Now, a money comparison isn’t anywhere close to an adequate argument in favour of the NFL. But, money is the foundation which allows the NFL to do what needs to be done in order to successfully run their business. With more money at their disposal, the NFL is able to produce the highest-quality product possible, thus creating a more engaging and rich experience for the fans. 

The first, and often one of the most frequently argued points in local debates on this topic, is the obvious fact that bigger salaries attract better talent. Everyone wants to get paid, and in professional sports, it’s a no-brainer that the NFL is where the big contracts are. I’m talking all available positions, coaching, players, and front office staff.  The NFL gets the pick of the litter when it comes to talent in all areas regarding football. 

Why is talent important? Because the level of play on the field is much better.  When you watch the NFL, you are watching the pinnacle of football. NFL players are the most gifted football players in the entire world, and they can perform in spectacular ways that simply cannot be done by other people. The CFL, on the other hand, does not attract this kind of talent. And when the CFL does produce a gifted player, he is inevitably gobbled up by the NFL monster.

The NFL as a whole is a much more fan-friendly league. With their galaxy-sized official website, 24-7 TV coverage, excellent use of social networking, video games galore, and an endless abyss of fan apparel, being a fan of the NFL is a luxurious experience. There is enough out there for any fan, big or small, to exhaust the full potential of their interest. 

Next there are the rules on the field. This is another popular argument in favour of the CFL, but is it really true that CFL rules are better? I would argue no. The NFL’s system allows for a wider range of play-calling. Four downs gives coaches increased time to implement more diverse strategies, expanding the chess match to a higher level. Yes, CFL games are usually higher scoring. But points on the board are just numbers, the real excitement comes from watching the game unfold.

Yes, the CFL brings local flavour to the scene. You can dress up in team colours with everyone else and march around in a group waving flags. The CFL is a part of our country’s culture, and it has been around for decades. But that’s being a fan of group-belonging and tradition, not actual football.

If you are interested in watching and engaging in the best football experience possible, then the NFL is what you’re looking for.

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  1. Jonathan Hamelin 11 January, 2011 at 07:37

    Personally, I'm definitiely more passionate about the CFL, but I voted for the NFL in this poll. I think Dietrich Neu made a compelling argument. As Canadians, we may be a bit biased towards the CFL because it is Canadian, but the fact is the NFL just has so much more money.

  2. dave 30 November, 2012 at 03:05

    In hockey, basketball etc. teams play for 60 minutes. This is actually 60 minutes of playing time.  Whereas in football, if you time the actual time the teams are playing and not standing around or changing from offense to defence you will find they only play approximately 10 to 12 minutes.  In hockey when the whistle blows the clock stops.  Changing from offense to defense should not have the clock running.  Plus they only play about 20 games a year instead of over a hundred.

  3. Nezahualcoyotl 30 November, 2012 at 10:27

    Its funny how one tried to appeal to emotion and the other made an attempt at logic.
    i give neither writer the win, I am definitely a CFL fan, and watch the Argonauts quite religiously, but i noticed that neither mentioned that having a fourth down is like playing with a handicap. I get that the Canadian rules emphasize passing, but if the nfl has the best talent in the world(something i dont deny) then realistically every possession should lead to a touch down. 4 downs is more than enough to advance ten yards, and more often than not we see them try strain the ball through immovable objects at center field. It gets tedious. Part of what seems to add to the excitement of an nfl game is the roar of the crowd. Which does have an effect, especially in a country with 10x the population of Canada, filling a stadium with a 65000 capacity is not an issue.

  4. Chris 8 July, 2014 at 10:54

    I pick the CFL very much over the NFL. The National Football League is not very fan friendly, the game is slow and boring and I typically don’t see much action in an NFL game vs a CFL game. And I am from the United States (Minnesota specifically). I am a die hard Esks fan and watch them every game (haven’t missed a game in 6 years watching) and will be going to my first Grey Cup next November in Winnipeg. Down here the NFL is a monster that overcharges for every single thing and controls 4 networks and everything they do (ESPN, FOX, CBS, and NBC which is why we don’t have hockey on National Over the Air TV until January/February) Everything is WAY to expensive for an NFL game tickets, parking, food, souvenirs. It would actually cost me more to go see a Vikings game which is 90 minutes from my home than it would cost to drive 5.5 hours to Winnipeg to watch a Bombers game. The CFL game is superior and the literal 24/7 NFL beast is to much to handle.

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