Longer, wider faster…

Written by: Marvin Baker

There’s a program in the Canadian Football League called Touchdown Atlantic in which two of the nine teams in the CFL give up one date a season to play a game in Atlantic Canada. It was created because of a strong interest to put an expansion team in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Halifax has wanted a CFL team since the early 1980s when a focus committee created the name Atlantic Schooners. In the past few years, the CFL commissioner has endorsed this plan and the CFL announced that it would indeed place an expansion team in Halifax.
What we don’t know is when, even though the investment group for the Atlantic Schooners has paid its expansion fee to join the CFL?
But Touchdown Atlantic has created a spinoff that could become quite interesting. In a move similar to the NFLplaying outside the United States, the CFL has played games in Mexico City and has a long-term expansion plan to develop a fan base in Mexico’s capital.
If you are football fan, you may remember that in the early ‘90s, the CFL expanded into the United States with several teams, most notably the Sacramento Gold Miners which was the first U.S. team in 1993. The following year, Shreveport, Memphis, Miami, Las Vegas, Baltimore, Birmingham and San Antonio all had teams.
By the end of the 1995 season, the U.S. division, including the Sacramento Gold Miners, was gone and the CFL considered it a failed experiment.
Now, because of Touchdown Atlantic’s success, the CFL is exploring neutral venues other than those cities in Atlantic Canada. As an example, the Saskatchewan Roughriders would play in Saskatoon, the Montreal Alouettes would play in Quebec City and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers would play in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
This idea is also where we come in, here in North Dakota.

A plan is being pushed to have the CFL teams play at neutral sites, close to their home base in American cities. So I’ll get right to the chase here. The plan includes the Calgary Stampeders playing in Bozeman, Mont., the Winnipeg Blue Bombers playing in Grand Forks, the Edmonton Elks playing in Anchorage, Alaska and the Saskatchewan Roughriders playing in either Bismarck or Minot.
In past years, Fargo was mentioned as a possible place to expand the CFL. This time around, Fargo isn’t mentioned in the Touchdown Atlantic scenario.
If you think about it, now that the worst of Covid is behind us and the international boundary is open again, on any given day, you’ll see Canadian vehicles in Minot and Grand Forks with a handful in Bismarck, with many more on our highways.
The only venue a CFL team could use in Grand Forks would be the Alerus Center and because the CFL field is longer and wider, it would be a tight fit to get a CFL field in that building. In Minot, it would have to be the Minot State University football field and in Bismarck, the Community Bowl.
There’s no question in anyone’s mind that the Saskatchewan Roughriders have the most successful front office in the CFL. In plain English, that means the Roughriders would have a pretty large following if a game were to be played in Minot.
There’s a book by Terry McEvoy titled “Rider Pride on the American Side,” about all the Roughriders’ following in the United States including North Dakota.
Given that people from Saskatchewan are in Minot all the time, it would be a bonus to them to take in a “hometown” football game while in the “states.” Those of us who are CFL fans would benefit as well, curious fans could see a new brand of football and this could, theoretically dwarf the attendance of a Class B boys basketball tournament.
The same can be said for Winnipeg playing in Grand Forks. Ninety percent of Winnipeg’s 800,000 population has been in Grand Forks at one time or another and many wouldn’t hesitate to drive the 150 miles and stay in the Canad Inns in Grand Forks and take in a Blue Bomber game.
Perhaps this idea has merit. If all else fails, it would be an economic bonanza for our cities for at least one or two days. Should it be successful, it could be the start of something newer, bigger and more profitable.

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