The Canadian Football League

The Canadian Football League (CFL) is a stimulating alternative to traditional American football. The CFL uses similar rules to the National Football League, but some diverse characteristics come with the sport's Canadian version. If you are looking to bet on the CFL, you must have complete knowledge of the CFL and the league's rules.

Introduction to the CFL

The CFL was founded on January 19, 1958. There are nine teams in the CFL across the entire country of Canada. The Edmonton Oilers have been the most successful team since the league launched, winning eleven Grey Cups in franchise history. 

The Grey Cup is the CFL's equivalent of the Lombardi Trophy, which is awarded to the league champion every year. The CFL is divided into two divisions, with four teams in the East and five teams in the West. 

These nine teams play a 21-week regular season that features 18 games and three bye weeks. Week one begins in June, and the season runs through November alongside the NFL. When the playoffs arrive, six teams face off in a three-week playoff that ends with the Grey Cup Championship Game. 

Rules & Gameplay 

Rules & Gameplay

Canadian rules make the CFL exciting to watch for Canadians as well as Americans. The first thing that stands out about the CFL is the field size. The CFL field size is 110 yards in length from goal line to goal line. The width of the field from sideline to sideline is 65 yards. 

A football field is 100 yards in length and 53 1/3 yards in width. The distance between the hashes in the CFL is 17 yards, and the endzone length is 20 yards in length. The field goal posts are positioned directly on the goal line. 

In the CFL, there are 24 players on the field at one time. Each team can play with 12 players rather than 11 in the NFL. Seven offensive players must be positioned on the line of scrimmage for an offense to have a legal formation. The 12th player on the CFL field is usually an extra-skill player to try to manipulate a defense. 

Offenses have three downs to convert a first down. Three downs make the game exciting and much more challenging for offensive coordinators in the CFL. The defensive players must be one yard away from the line of scrimmage. This evens the playing field for the offensive and defensive units. 


In the CFL, each team receives two timeouts per game. There are four 15-minute quarters in a CFL game. The game clock stops at the three-minute warning in the second and fourth quarters. Teams can only use one of their timeouts following the three-minute warning in the fourth quarter. 


The scoring in the CFL is similar to American football, with one exception. A touchdown is worth six, a kicked extra point is worth one, an offensive conversion is worth two, and a field goal is worth three. 

The unique scoring method in the CFL is with punts and field goals. When a team punts or misses a field goal and the receiving team does not take the ball out of the endzone, the kicking team receives one point. If the kicking team misses a field goal or punts and the ball goes through the endzone without being touched, the kicking team receives one point. 


Should the game be tied at the end of regulation, overtime will ensue. An overtime coin toss determines who will receive the ball first. The team that wins the toss can take the ball first or second in OT. The team that receives the ball first takes possession on their own 35-yard line.

There are no kickoffs in CFL overtime games. The offense will attempt to score, but the game is over if the defense scores a single point. After the offense either scores or turns the ball over, the other team will take the ball at their 35-yard line. 

The new team will have to match or exceed their opponent's score. If they surpass their opponent's score, the game is over, and they win. Should they match scores, the game goes to a second and final overtime period. If they do not at least tie their opponent's score, the game is over. When no winner has been decided after two overtimes, the game ends in a tie. 

The final main rule of the CFL is that there are no fair catch rules. A team must field the football, and the kicking team needs to give their opponents a five-yard buffer to field the ball in the air or on a bounce. If a team does not provide five yards of room, the referees will enact a ten-yard penalty. 

How the Teams Work 

CFL Teams

There are nine teams in the CFL that play an 18-game regular season. Six teams make the playoffs at the end of the regular season with the hope of winning a Grey Cup Championship. 

Each of the nine teams can have up to 46 players on their active roster. On gameday, 45 players can dress for the contest. Two of these players can be identified as a quarterback. There are no other limits for the other positions on the roster. The limitations and minimums in the CFL involve nationalities. 

CFL teams must have a minimum of 21 Canadians, at least two global players, and a maximum of 20 American athletes. Four of the American athletes must be labeled as "Designated Americans." These players can play special teams or replace an American starter, but they cannot start on offense or defense. 

There are 24 starters on offense and defense, and teams have a nationality requirement for these athletes. The quarterback can be of any nationality, but the remaining 23 players must include seven Canadians. Teams can utilize more than seven national players, but the standard framework is seven Canadians and 16 Americans. 

A Canadian player must be a national citizen at the time of contract signing. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. If a player has lived in Canada for five years at one time or spent five years in Canada before 18 years old, they can be designated as a Canadian player. 

Strategy & Tactics 

Strategy varies amongst different CFL franchises. Offenses must figure out their identity in terms of whether they favor the run or the pass. Since there are only three downs in the CFL, offenses need to understand what plays work best to convert efficiently. 

Teams that control the ball drain the clock, but they cannot usually score quickly. Other teams take shots down the field. This does not result in a high percentage of first downs, but it leads to more points. 

The best offensive strategy is to have a balanced attack so the defense cannot predict the play before the snap. This results in fewer turnovers and the ability to score quickly. 

Defenses either play with a conservative or aggressive approach. There are pros and cons to each method. A team that blitzes a lot could create more turnovers and negative plays, but it also could cause the unit to give up explosive touchdowns. 

A team that is too conservative could get picked on with runs and short to intermediate passes. Defenses need to change their tactics based on their weekly opponent. Coaching staffs and roster talent determine strategies and tactics. 

History of the Game 

The Canadian Football Hall of Fame is located in Hamilton, Ontario. The Hall contains the enshrined members of the CFL. It was established in 1972. Inducted members will receive a metal bust and a write-up on their professional careers. 

The Hall of Fame is located at Tim Hortons Field, so it's not its own facility, but it's still a beautiful museum. If you want to learn about football history in Canada, this facility is the best place to gain knowledge of the sport. You can also look at the Hall of Fame's online exhibits on the official website, which is very extensive.

The CFL was established in 1958 because of a merger between the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union and the Western Interprovincial Football Union. The CFL attempted to expand into the United States with their own division, but this project failed. The five American teams were not required to maintain the quota for Canadian players, which gave them an advantage. Although, the Baltimore Stallions was the only American team to win the Grey Cup in 1995. The

CFL became a Canadian football league solely in 1996 with nine national franchises. There are still nine teams in the present-day league. 

Distinctive Elements 

The CFL is loaded with distinctive elements that make it unique from American football. Here are the things that make the sport so unique.

  • The field size 110 yards x 65 yards, goal line to goal line. The field consists of 20-yard endzones with field goal posts on the goal line. 
  • There are 12 total players on the field for each team at one time because of the increased field size. 
  • Teams only have three downs to earn a first down by gaining 10 yards. 
  • Teams receive two timeouts per game. They can only use one timeout inside the three-minute warning in the fourth quarter.
  • Teams can earn a point by punting or kicking the ball through the back of the endzone without being touched.
  • Teams play 18 regular-season games over 21 weeks versus 16 games over 17 weeks in the NFL.
  • There are no fair catches in the CFL. Kicking teams must give the receiving team a five-yard buffer to field the football. If they do not, a ten-yard penalty will be assessed. 


Strategy & Tactics

CFL statistics are standard for the game of football. The main passing statistical categories are completion percentage, yards, touchdowns, interceptions, yards per attempt, and efficiency rating. Efficiency rating comprises everything a quarterback does in a game to grade their performance. 

Rushing statistics are total carries, yards, average run, longest run, touchdowns, and fumbles. Receiving analytics are catches, total yards, yards after the catch, average yards per catch, longest catch, and touchdown receptions. 

Defensive stats in the CFL are total tackles, solo tackles, sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, and defensive touchdowns. Kickers are judged on their field goal percentage and their longest kicks. Kickers for kickoffs and punters are judged by the average length of their kicks. 

Popularity and Cultural Impact 

The CFL is the only major professional sporting league in Canada, so it's prevalent. Hockey is the national sport, but the National Hockey League is an American organization. Many NHL hockey teams play in Canada, but this is not a national league. The CFL is an extensive season, so the sport generates a lot of viewers. 

As you'd expect, the CFL appeals primarily to Canadians, but Americans also favor it in the buildup to the NFL season. The CFL has averaged at least 20,000 fans per game in every season since 1963. The largest attendance of all-time in a CFL game is just under 70,000 people.

The CFL season culminates with the Grey Cup. The Grey Cup is the Super Bowl's Canadian equivalent, and it draws a massive television audience. The 2019 semifinals and Grey Cup drew 3.9 million viewers on TSN and RDS, which increased 29% from 2018. 5.4 million unique viewers watched the playoffs. 

Canada is a hockey country, but football is still a popular sport that attracts a ton of national spectators. The CFL's popularity has extensively grown in the past few years, and this trend is expected to continue in Canada and the United States.

Reference Links 

About Tyler Vaysman
Tyler Vaysman author profile

Tyler has a true passion for sports, DFS & sports betting in particular. Combine his love for sports with his journalistic background and you have a great guy to cover the latest industry news. He also enjoys disc golf, fishing and traveling in his free time.

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