Canadian Football League West Division

Canadian Football League West Division

The West Division is one of the two regional divisions of the Canadian Football League. Although the CFL was not founded until 1958, the West Division and its clubs are descended from earlier leagues.

History

Pre-1936

The first organized football club in Western Canada was the "Winnipeg Rugby Football Club", later the Winnipeg Football Club, a forerunner of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers which was founded in 1879. At the time the sport was generally called "rugby" or "rugby football" because its rules were similar to rugby union's, although this would change drastically in the coming decades. The first organized competition in the West was formed in 1888 Winnipeg Football Club, St. John's College and the Royal School of Infantry formed the Manitoba Rugby League, later re-organized as the Manitoba Rugby Football Union. Football was being played in what was to become Alberta and Saskatchewan by 1890, and by 1907 the new provinces had organized their own respective competitions and agreed to adopt the rules of the national governing body, the Canadian Rugby Union. A provincial union was not formed in British Columbia until the 1920s.

The three provincial unions then in existence soon set out to create a unified Western Canadian competition, with the view that the Western champion should be able to challenge for the Canadian Rugby Union's new championship trophy, the Grey Cup. To this end, the Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta unions formed the Western Canada Rugby Football Union in 1911, with the Calgary Tigers winning the first Western championship later that year. Initially, the Western champions were not allowed to compete for the Grey Cup, because the CRU believed the caliber of the new competition to be inferior to those in the East. It was not until 1921 that a Western team was finally allowed to compete in the Grey Cup game, when the Edmonton Eskimos lost 23–0 to the Toronto Argonauts. Initial challenges for the trophy met with futility, largely because the Western champion invariably had to travel to the East to compete in the championship game. Finally in 1935 a Western team, the Winnipeg Pegs (soon to be known as the Blue Bombers) captured the Grey Cup, after they defeated the Hamilton Tigers 18–12.

Western Interprovincial Football Union (1936–1961)

In 1936, the Western Interprovincial Football Union was formed, succeeding the WCRFU as the West's premier football competition. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Regina Roughriders and Calgary Bronks were the original teams. Teams from Edmonton and Vancouver also competed in some seasons prior to suspension of the competition in 1942 for the duration of the Second World War. The league resumed play on a limited basis in 1945 with Winnipeg, Regina and the newly renamed Calgary Stampeders. The competition was fully resumed by 1946. The Regina Roughriders became the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 1948, Edmonton rejoined the league in 1949 and in 1950 the third place team was granted a playoff berth. In 1954, the British Columbia Lions joined the league, thus giving the West the same five teams that compete in the modern CFL as of 2005. The regular season schedule was also expanded, from eight games per team in 1946 to 12 in 1948, 14 in 1949, and finally 16 games in 1952. The West continued to play a 16-game schedule for the next three decades.

The WIFU champion was not always guaranteed a berth in the Grey Cup game at first. In 1940 the Western champions, the Blue Bombers, were disqualified from the Grey Cup in a rules dispute. Also, until the 1950s, the Western champion was often obliged to play the champion of the Ontario Rugby Football Union in a Grey Cup semi-final. However, the ORFU was eventually proven to be a much weaker league, and stopped challenging for the Grey Cup after the 1954 season. The Western champion has always been guaranteed a berth in the Grey Cup since that time, so 1954 is usually viewed as the start of the modern era of Canadian football.

Since the 1955 season, the champion of what was then known as the WIFU has competed for the Grey Cup against the champion of what was then called the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union or "Big Four". In 1956, these two leagues agreed to form the Canadian Football Council. In 1958, the CFC withdrew from the CRU and re-named itself the Canadian Football League.

Western Football Conference (1961–1980)

The WIFU was re-named the Western Football Conference in 1961 and agreed to a partial interlocking schedule with what was by then known as the Eastern Football Conference the same year. Although the WFC was part of the CFL, its merger with the EFC was only a partial merger for the next two decades. During this time, the conferences maintained considerable autonomy—for example, the West had a different playoff format until 1973 and a longer schedule until 1974. During this time, attendances increased substantially for most clubs and television revenue gained prominence and importance. By the 1980s, CFL clubs were ready to proceed with a complete merger of the two regional conferences.

West Division (1980–1994, 1996–present)

In 1980, the CFL's two conferences agreed to a full merger and a full interlocking schedule. Although the WFC has carried on since that time as the CFL's West Division, full authority is now vested within the CFL. The decision to create a full interlocking schedule meant that the teams were playing fewer divisional games, consequently the league decided add two extra divisional games per team, thus extending the schedule to 18 games per team starting in 1986.

The West Division has undergone major changes since the dissolution of the WFC. In 1987 an East Division team, the Montreal Alouettes, folded. Consequently, Winnipeg was transferred to the East Division to keep the divisions equal in size. This led to the first "all-Western" Grey Cup in 1988 when the Blue Bombers won the East Division championship for the first time.

In 1993, the CFL decided to expand to the United States, leading to the addition of the league's first American-based team, the Sacramento Gold Miners. In 1994, the division added a sixth team, the Las Vegas Posse. Following the 1994 season, the Posse folded while the Gold Miners moved to San Antonio and became the Texans. For the 1995 season, all eight Canadian teams competed in the North Division.

Prior to the 1996 season however, all of the American clubs disbanded, with one (the Baltimore Stallions) returning to Montreal. The pre-1987 divisional alignment was restored, only to see Winnipeg return to the East after one season when the Ottawa Rough Riders folded. The Blue Bombers returned to the West in 2002 after an expansion franchise was granted in the nation's capital. With the suspension of the Ottawa Renegades for the 2006 season, the Blue Bombers moved back to the East for at least the 2006 season.

Grey Cup record

Prior to 1954, Western clubs found limited success in the Grey Cup. Since 1954 however, the West has generally been on an equal footing and in recent decades has often dominated the East in the regular season. Since 1954 the West has won 27 Grey Cups and lost 23. If the 1995 season is counted, the West has lost 24. It should also be noted that two of the West's Grey Cup losses were to the Blue Bombers, who have played in the West for most of their history.

Playoff format

For most seasons since 1950, the top three teams in the West have made the playoffs. For many years, the semi-final and final was a two-game or even a best-of-three game series, but this was abandoned in the 1970s in favour of one-game play-offs. Quite often a fourth-place team in the West had a better record than the third-place team in the East, with the western team out of the playoffs.

This was rectified beginning in 1986 when the CFL instituted a rule that permitted a fourth-place team in one division to make the playoffs provided it had more points in the standings than the third-place team in the other division. That year in the West the first-place Eskimos (13–4–1) defeated the fourth-place Stampeders (11–7–0) by a score of 27–18. The second-place Lions (12–6–0) defeated the third-place Blue Bombers (11–7–0) by a score of 21–14. The Eskimos then demolished the Lions in the West Final 41–5 and advanced to the Grey Cup. In the East the first-place Argonauts (10–8–0) played a two-game total point series against the second-place Tiger-Cats (9–8–1). The Argonauts won the first game 31–17, but the Tiger-Cats won the second game by a score of 42–25 and so the series with of course a berth in the Grey Cup final. The Tiger-Cats, in their third consecutive Grey Cup game, were victorious over the Eskimos 39–15.

With the demise of the Montreal Alouettes on the eve of the 1987 season the playoff format reverted to the top three teams in the respective divisions making the playoffs. In 1997, the present cross-over rule was implemented, allowing the fourth-place team from one division to take the play-off place of the third-place team in the other division, should the fourth-place team earn a better record. Since 1997, the fourth-place team in the West has taken advantage of the cross-over rule four times, although none have advanced to the Eastern final. As of 2007, no team from the East had crossed over into the Western playoffs.

List of champions (since 1936)

*Clubs in "italics" finished in first place during the regular season.
*Clubs in bold won the Grey Cup.

Champions of the Western Interprovincial Football Union

1: Regina did not take part in the 1936 Grey Cup game.

2: Winnipeg was disqualified from the 1940 Grey Cup due to a rules dispute.

3: No regular season was played in 1945.

4: Winnipeg won two Grey Cups (in 1988 and 1990) while in the East Division.

5: All Canadian teams competed in the North Division in 1995.

External links

* [http://www.cfl.ca/ Canadian Football League Official Site]


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