The CFL “Ratio”: Which team uses it best?
(by Joe Pritchard)
Canadian Football League teams can’t just rely on gathering as much talent as they can and throwing it on the field. They have to be mindful of the Canadian Ratio rule.
CFL active roster are set up like this:
* 46 players are listed on the active roster each week.
* 2 are inactive, 44 are active.
* 3 are listed as quarterbacks each week, and that designation has its own specific rules about deployment, for example, only one can be on the field at a time. These players do not count as “National” or “International” for the purposes of the ratio requirement.
* 20 players on the roster can be “International”, players that don’t qualify as “Nationals”
* 21 are “National” players, who must meet certain standards to gain this status. Players must be either Canadian citizens at the time of signing their first CFL contract, must have been classified as a “Non-Import” prior to May 31st, 2014, when the current CFL CBA came into effect, or the player must have been physically resident in Canada for at least five years prior to their 18th birthday.
There is also a “Designated International” rule, in which 4 of the 20 International players must be designated to only replace other Internationals and play on special teams.
Generally, CFL teams will field a starting lineup that looks like this:
16 International starters
7 National starters
Please note, however, that there’s nothing keeping a team from starting more National players, 7 is simply the minimum number once the Designated International rule is applied. Teams can start more than seven, and some do.
So how are teams deploying those seven (or more) starters?
This varies team by team, but in general terms, teams tend to be starting at least one offensive skill player, usually two (either a running back, slotback, or wide receiver), three offensive linemen (usually the interior line), one or two defensive linemen, and a safety. This, however, is a generalization, and some teams have what are called “Ratio Busters,” starters that play either the starting running back position, a defensive secondary position other than safety, or a linebacker.
Some even consider National offensive tackles ratio busters, although that’s fairly common, at least this year. Ratio busters are a double-edged sword, however, as teams that don’t have a starting quality National backup may need to shuffle out a normally starting International player at a different position if they have to substitute an International backup to a National starter.
The following is a breakdown of how each individual team is starting their Nationals. Note that I’m taking these from the official league game notes, and using their list of starting players. No team has started a fullback, and very few, if any, started more than 1 running back.
BC Lions: 2 receivers, 2 guards, 1 center, 1 defensive tackle, and 1 safety. This hasn’t changed all season, based off my research.
Calgary Stampeders: 1 RB (ratio buster Jerome Messam), 2 WRs, 1 tackle, 2 guards, 1 center, and 1 DT. They have at one point started a linebacker (Alex Singleton, replacing an injured Taylor Reed), and in their most recent game did not start an offensive tackle. Calgary generally starts eight Nationals, but have started as many as nine and as few as seven.
Edmonton Eskimos: 3 WRs, 2 guards, 1 center, and 1 safety. The players have changed due to injury, but the positions have not.
Saskatchewan Roughriders: The Riders are a bit tougher to generalize due to all the roster changes due to injuries and performance issues, but they generally start 2 WRs, 1 guard, 1 center, 1 defensive end, 1 DT, and 1 safety. They have started an extra receiver, and in week one started a second guard instead of a DT, otherwise, they seem to have found their ratio positions.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers: 1 RB (ratio buster Andrew Harris), 1 receiver, 1 tackle, 1 guard, 1 center, 1 defensive end, and 1 DT. In their last game, the Bombers started a safety when T Patrick Neufeld had to be replaced by International Travis Bond.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats: 2 WRs, 2 guards, 1 center, 1 DT, and 1 safety. This has been the ratio all season.
Montreal Alouettes: 1 WR, 2 tackles, 2 guards, 1 center, 1 DT, and 1 safety. There was also 1 linebacker listed in week 1; otherwise, it has been this setup all season for the Als. They have eight normal starters, and can weather one injury without ratio concerns.
Ottawa RedBlacks: 2 WRs, 2 guards, 1 center, 1 defensive end, 2 DTs, and 1 linebacker (ratio buster Antoine Pruneau). The RedBlacks are the only team that regularly starts nine National players.
Toronto Argonauts: 1 receiver, 2 tackles, 2 guards, 1 defensive end, 1 linebacker (ratio buster Cory Greenwood), and 1 safety. This is eight, and the Argos did not start a National safety last game and was still compliant with the ratio rule.
If you’re new to the CFL game, hopefully this gives you a better picture of what the broadcasters and media are saying when they refer to “the ratio.” If you’re a CFL fan veteran, hopefully the team by team breakdowns help you know where to look for those all-important National players…