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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Killing divisions: Rewriting CFL playoff history with no East, West

Killing divisions: Rewriting CFL playoff history with no East, West

Publish Date: 10/17/2016
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster

There has been a lot of talk lately about eliminating divisions in the CFL due to the awful performance from the East Division this year. I’ve decided to go back 20 years to see how the CFL playoff matchups would differ year to year if the divisions had been eliminated after the US expansion experiment of the mid-1990s failed. I’m also including the actual standings for comparison.

An issue in making these comparisons is that, of course, the teams played a schedule with emphasis on divisional matchups, but that’s not something that can be remedied, so we are stuck with some statistical limitation, unfortunately. There also is the fact that teams may not have been playing starters at the end of the season by virtue of clinching their place in real life much sooner than they would have in a no division setup. It shouldn’t affect the end result of this study too much, however.

One thing that I’m going to do for consistency’s sake is to continue to refer to the first round as the Semi-Final and the second round as the Final, even though these names make little sense under a No Division format.

New ties that are discovered due to eliminating the divisions will be broken based off of the current rules. Any errors are mine.

1996 Actual Standings

East
Toronto 15-3
Montreal 12-6
Hamilton 8-10
Ottawa 3-15

West
Calgary 13-5
Edmonton 11-7
Winnipeg 9-9
BC 5-13
Saskatchewan 5-13

Actual Playoff Setup
Hamilton at Montreal, East Semi, winner to Toronto
Winnipeg at Edmonton, West Semi, winner to Calgary

1996 No Divisions
Toronto 15-3
Calgary 13-5
Montreal 12-6
Edmonton 11-7
Winnipeg 9-9
Hamilton 8-10
BC 5-13
Saskatchewan 5-13
Ottawa 3-15

No Divisions Playoff Setup
#6 Hamilton at #3 Montreal
#5 Winnipeg at #4 Edmonton

Higher seed remaining at #2 Calgary
Lower seed remaining at #1 Toronto

Well, we are off to a quiet start. In this case, a no divisions setup doesn’t change much. No playoff teams are changed, and no semi-final matchups are affected. Since our two projected semi-final matchups actually happened, we can see that if the no divisions setup were in place that year, the Division Final matchups would have flip flopped, with Edmonton facing Toronto (which ended up being the Grey Cup matchup) and Montreal facing Calgary.

1997 Actual Standings

East
Toronto 15-3
Montreal 13-5
Winnipeg 4-14
Hamilton 2-16

West
Edmonton 12-6
Calgary 10-8
Saskatchewan 8-10
BC 8-10

Actual Playoff Setup
BC at Montreal, East Semi (BC crosses over), winner to Toronto
Saskatchewan at Calgary, West Semi, winner to Edmonton

1997 No Divisions
Toronto 15-3
Montreal 13-5
Edmonton 12-6
Calgary 10-8
Saskatchewan 8-10
BC 8-10
Winnipeg 4-14
Hamilton 2-16

No Divisions Playoff Setup
#6 BC at #3 Edmonton
#5 Saskatchewan at #4 Calgary

Higher seed remaining at #2 Montreal
Lower seed remaining at #1 Toronto

Here we have a big difference. Montreal gets a bye and is hosting a Final, even though they wouldn’t have been able to under the current format, which sticks them in the East and has them hosting the Semi-Final. Saskatchewan and Calgary met up in the actual West Semi-Final, with Saskatchewan winning, so we have another season where the actual Grey Cup matchup is likely to occur a week earlier, assuming an Edmonton win over BC in the other semi-final, of course.

1998 Actual Standings

East
Hamilton 12-5-1
Montreal 12-5-1
Toronto 9-9
Winnipeg 3-15

West
Calgary 12-6
Edmonton 9-9
BC 9-9
Saskatchewan 5-13

Actual Playoff Setup
Toronto at Montreal, East Semi, winner to Hamilton
BC at Edmonton, West Semi, winner to Calgary

1998 No Divisions
Hamilton 12-5-1
Montreal 12-5-1
Calgary 12-6
Toronto 9-9
Edmonton 9-9
BC 9-9
Saskatchewan 5-13
Winnipeg 3-15

No Divisions Playoff Setup
#6 BC at #3 Calgary
#5 Edmonton at #4 Toronto

Higher remaining seed at #2 Montreal
Lower remaining seed at #1 Hamilton
Montreal gets a bye to the Final for the second straight year under the No Divisions format. Calgary and Hamilton is still a Grey Cup possibility, but now Calgary would have to go through Montreal in the Final instead of hosting the winner of BC and Edmonton.

1999 Actual Standings

East
Montreal 12-6
Hamilton 11-7
Toronto 9-9
Winnipeg 6-12
West
BC 13-5
Calgary 12-6
Edmonton 6-12
Saskatchewan 3-15

Actual Playoff Setup

Toronto at Hamilton, East Semi, winner to Montreal
Edmonton at Calgary, West Semi, winner to BC

1999 No Divisions
BC 13-5
Calgary 13-5
Montreal 12-6
Hamilton 11-7
Toronto 9-9
Edmonton 6-12
Winnipeg 6-12
Saskatchewan 3-15

No Divisions Playoff Setup
#6 Edmonton at #3 Montreal
#5 Toronto at #4 Hamilton
Higher remaining seed at #2 Calgary
Lower remaining seed at #1 BC

Here’s the opposite of what we’ve been seeing, where Montreal has to play a Semi-Final, when they hosted a Final in reality. Calgary wins the tiebreaker over Montreal, otherwise, this would have been the exact same Semi-Final matchups we saw in real life.

2000 Actual Standings

East
Montreal 12-6
Hamilton 9-9
Winnipeg 7-10-1
Toronto 7-10-1

(This was one of the years overtime losses mattered, wich put Winnipeg in third and Toronto in fourth)

West
Calgary 12-5-1
Edmonton 10-8
BC 8-10
Saskatchewan 5-12-1

Actual Playoff Setup
Winnipeg at Hamilton, East Semi, winner to Montreal
BC at Edmonton, West Semi, winner to Calgary

2000 No Divisions 
Calgary 12-5-1
Montreal 12-6
Edmonton 10-8
Hamilton 9-9
BC 8-10
Winnipeg 7-10-1
Toronto 7-10-1
Saskatchewan 5-12-1

No Divisions Playoff Setup
#6 Winnipeg at #3 Edmonton
#5 BC at #4 Hamilton

Higher remaining seed at #2 Montreal
Lower remaining seed at #1 Calgary

This one doesn’t change much, all the teams are hosting or going on the road in the appropriate weeks, but it does affect the matchups, with the Semi-Finals being shaken up and the finals not guaranteed to be a repeat of reality, either.

2001 Actual Standings

East
Winnipeg 14-4
Hamilton 11-7
Montreal 9-9
Toronto 7-11

West
Edmonton 9-9
Calgary 8-10
BC 8-10
Saskatchewan 6-12

(This is another year where overtime losses gave a team a point in the standings, and breaks ties that may have otherwise existed, especially in a No Division setup.)

Actual Playoff Setup
Montreal at Hamilton, East Semi, winner to Winnipeg
BC at Calgary, West Semi, winner to Edmonton

2001 No Divisions
Winnipeg 14-4
Hamilton 11-7
Edmonton 9-9
Montreal 9-9
Calgary 8-10
BC 8-10
Toronto 7-11
Saskatchewan 6-12

No Divisions Playoff Setup
#6 BC at #3 Edmonton
#5 Calgary at #4 Montreal

Higher remaining seed at #2 Hamilton
Lower remaining seed at #1 Winnipeg

This is one of the rare seasons were the East outdoes the West, with two teams on top of the league, and three of the top four (Edmonton had an overtime loss, otherwise it would have been the best three teams based on the current standings and tiebreaker rules).

2002 Actual Standings

East
Montreal 13-5
Toronto 8-10
Hamilton 7-11
Ottawa 4-14

West
Edmonton 13-5
Winnipeg 12-6
BC 10-8
Saskatchewan 8-10
Calgary 6-12

Actual Playoff Setup
Saskatchewan at Toronto, East Semi (Saskatchewan crosses over), winner to Montreal
BC at Winnipeg, West Semi, winner to Edmonton

2002 No Divisions
Montreal 13-5
Edmonton 13-5
Winnipeg 12-6
BC 10-8
Saskatchewan 8-10
Toronto 8-10
Hamilton 7-11
Calgary 6-12
Ottawa 4-14

No Divisions Playoff Setup
#6 Toronto at #3 Winnipeg
#5 Saskatchewan at #4 BC

Higher remaining seed at #2 Edmonton
Lower remaining seed at #1 Montreal

BC gets to host a home playoff game instead of Toronto, and Saskatchewan gets a boost by beating Toronto in a tiebreaker (in reality, of course, a team crossing over is always ranked below the #2 team in the opposite division).

2003 Actual Standings

East
Montreal 13-5
Toronto 9-9
Ottawa 7-11
Hamilton 1-17

West
Edmonton 13-5
Winnipeg 11-7
Saskatchewan 11-7
BC 11-7
Calgary 5-13

Actual Playoff Setup
BC at Toronto, East Semi (BC crosses over), winner to Montreal
Saskatchewan at Winnipeg, West Semi, winner to Edmonton

2003 No Divisions
Montreal 13-5
Edmonton 13-5
Winnipeg 11-7
Saskatchewan 11-7
BC 11-7
Toronto 9-9
Ottawa 7-11
Calgary 5-13
Hamilton 1-17

No Divisions Playoff Setup
#6 Toronto at #3 Winnipeg
#5 BC at #4 Saskatchewan

Higher remaining seed at #2 Edmonton
Lower remaining seed at #1 Montreal

This is one where having a No Division format rewards the teams with better records. Saskatchewan is now hosting a playoff game, and instead of Toronto hosting a playoff game, they’re now the #6 seed.

2004 Actual Standings

East
Montreal 14-4
Toronto 10-7-1
Hamilton 9-8-1
Ottawa 5-13

West
BC 13-5
Edmonton 9-9
Saskatchewan 9-9
Winnipeg 7-11
Calgary 4-14

Actual Playoff Setup
Hamilton at Toronto, East Semi, winner to Montreal
Saskatchewan at Edmonton, West Semi, winner to BC

2004 No Divisions
Montreal 14-4
BC 13-5
Toronto 10-7-1
Hamilton 9-8-1
Edmonton 9-9
Saskatchewan 9-9
Winnipeg 7-11
Ottawa 5-13
Calgary 4-14

No Divisions Playoff Setup
#6 Saskatchewan at #3 Toronto
#5 Edmonton at #4 Hamilton

Higher remaining seed at #2 BC
Lower remaining seed at #1 Montreal

Another situation where the East teams benefit from a No Divisions setup. Two Eastern teams now host Semi-Finals.

2005 Actual Standings

East
Toronto 11-7
Montreal 10-8
Ottawa 7-11
Hamilton 5-13

West
BC 12-6
Calgary 11-7
Edmonton 11-7
Saskatchewan 9-9
Winnipeg 5-13

Actual Playoff Setup

Saskatchewan at Montreal, East Semi (Saskatchewan crosses over), winner to Toronto
Edmonton at Calgary, West Semi, winner to BC

2005 No Divisions
BC 12-6
Toronto 11-7
Calgary 11-7
Edmonton 11-7
Montreal 10-8
Saskatchewan 9-9
Ottawa 7-11
Winnipeg 5-13
Hamilton 5-13

No Divisions Playoff Setup
#6 Saskatchewan at #3 Calgary
#5 Montreal at #4 Edmonton

Higher remaining seed at #2 Toronto
Lower remaining seed at #1 BC

This is a season where the West would have hosted the majority of the playoff games, and yet another season where the West has 4 playoff teams against the East’s 2. There’s a bit of a mashup of teams from 1 to 5, though, so it’s not quite as much of a Western domination as it appears simply based on seeding.

2006 Actual Standings

East
Montreal 10-8
Toronto 10-8
Winnipeg 9-9
Hamilton 4-14

West
BC 13-5
Calgary 10-8
Saskatchewan 9-9
Edmonton 7-11

Actual Playoff Setup
Winnipeg at Toronto, East Semi, winner to Montreal
Saskatchewan at Calgary, West Semi, winner to BC

2006 No Divisions
BC 13-5
Calgary 10-8
Montreal 10-8
Toronto 10-8
Saskatchewan 9-9
Winnipeg 9-9
Edmonton 7-11
Hamilton 4-14

No Divisions Playoff Setup
#6 Winnipeg at #3 Montreal
#5 Saskatchewan at #4 Toronto

Higher remaining seed at #2 Calgary
Lower remaining seed at #1 BC

Here’s another situation where a division winner in reality is no longer granted an automatic bye. For two seasons running, there’s a big bubble of teams within a game or two of each other, so tiebreakers become incredibly important in seeding a no division setup.

2007 Actual Standings

East
Toronto 11-7
Winnipeg 10-7-1
Montreal 8-10
Hamilton 3-15

West
BC 14-3-1
Saskatchewan 12-6
Calgary 7-10-1
Edmonton 5-12-1

Actual Playoff Setup
Montreal at Winnipeg, East Semi, winner to Toronto
Calgary at Saskatchewan, West Semi, winner to BC

2007 No Divisions
BC 14-3-1
Saskatchewan 12-6
Toronto 11-7
Winnipeg 10-7-1
Montreal 8-10
Calgary 7-10-1
Edmonton 5-12-1
Hamilton 3-15

No Divisions Playoff Setup
#6 Calgary at #3 Toronto
#5 Montreal at #4 Winnipeg

Higher remaining seed at #2 Saskatchewan
Lower remaining seed at #1 BC

I’m starting to notice a pattern in which teams that earned byes in reality would not have in a no divisions format. Saskatchewan leaps over Toronto for the bye in the no divisions setup.

2008 Actual Standings

East
Montreal 11-7
Winnipeg 8-10
Toronto 4-14
Hamilton 3-15

West
Calgary 13-5
Saskatchewan 12-6
BC 11-7
Edmonton 10-8

Actual Playoff Setup
Edmonton at Winnipeg, East Semi (Edmonton crosses over), winner to Montreal
BC at Saskatchewan, West Semi, winner to Calgary

2008 No Divisions
Calgary 13-5
Saskatchewan 12-6
Montreal 11-7
BC 11-7
Edmonton 10-8
Winnipeg 8-10
Toronto 4-14
Hamilton 3-15

No Divisions Playoff Setup
#6 Winnipeg at #3 Montreal
#5 Edmonton at #4 BC

Higher remaining seed at #2 Saskatchewan
Lower remaining seed at #1 BC

The pattern I have been seeing continues to manifest itself, with Montreal being the benificiary again of the current format, and Saskatchewan suffering because of it. BC also hosts a home game now, and Edmonton has a much tougher draw in the Semi-Final

2009 Actual Standings

East
Montreal 15-3
Hamilton 9-9
Winnipeg 7-11
Toronto 3-15

West
Saskatchewan 10-7-1
Calgary 10-7-1
Edmonton 9-9
BC 8-10

Actual Playoff Setup
BC at Hamilton, East Semi (BC crosses over), winner to Montreal
Edmonton at Calgary, West Semi, winner to Saskatchewan

2009 No Divisions
Montreal 15-3
Saskatchewan 10-7-1
Calgary 10-7-1
Hamilton 9-9
Edmonton 9-9
BC 8-10
Winnipeg 7-11
Toronto 3-15

No Divisions Playoff Setup
#6 BC at #3 Calgary
#5 Edmonton at #4 Hamilton
Higher remaining seed at #2 Saskatchewan
Lower remaining seed at #1 Montreal

Finally, a season where both division winners earned byes in both formats. The format change still gives BC a tougher road test in the Semi-Final.

2010 Actual Standings

East
Montreal 12-6
Hamilton 9-9
Toronto 9-9
Winnipeg 4-14

West
Calgary 13-5
Saskatchewan 10-8
BC 8-10
Edmonton 7-11

Actual Playoff Setup
Toronto at Hamilton, East Semi, winner to Montreal
BC at Saskatchewan, West Semi, winner to Calgary

2010 No Divisions
Calgary 13-5
Montreal 12-6
Saskatchewan 10-8
Hamilton 9-9
Toronto 9-9
BC 8-10
Edmonton 7-11
Winnipeg 4-14

No Divisions Playoff Setup
#6 BC at #3 Saskatchewan
#5 Toronto at #4 Hamilton

Higher remaining seed at #2 Montreal
Lower remaining seed at #1 Calgary

It’s been a while since the semi-finals are the same in both formats. In reality, Saskatchewan won their semi-final, so in the No Divisions format, they see Montreal a week earlier in a Final instead of the Grey Cup, but that’s as dramatic of a change as we would have seen in 2010.

2011 Actual Standings

East
Winnipeg 10-8
Montreal 10-8
Hamilton 8-10
Toronto 6-12

West
BC 11-7
Edmonton 11-7
Calgary 11-7
Saskatchewan 5-13

Actual Playoff Setup
Hamilton at Montreal, East Semi, winner to Winnipeg
Calgary at Edmonton, West Semi, winner to BC

2011 No Divisions
BC 11-7
Edmonton 11-7
Calgary 11-7
Winnipeg 10-8
Montreal 10-8
Hamilton 8-10
Toronto 6-12
Saskatchewan 5-13

No Divisions Playoff Setup
#6 Hamilton at #3 Calgary
#5 Montreal at #4 Winnipeg
Higher remaining seed at #2 Edmonton
Lower remaining seed at #1 BC

The West had the three strongest teams (by record, anyway) in 2011, but the East still ended up with three playoff teams, as the next four best records were out East.

2012 Actual Standings

East
Montreal 11-7
Toronto 9-9
Winnipeg 6-12
Hamilton 6-12

West
BC 13-5
Calgary 12-6
Saskatchewan 8-10
Edmonton 7-11

Actual Playoff Setup
Edmonton at Toronto, East Semi (Edmonton crosses over), winner to Montreal
Saskatchewan at Calgary, West Semi, winner to BC

2012 No Divisions
BC 13-5
Calgary 12-6
Montreal 11-7
Toronto 9-9
Saskatchewan 8-10
Edmonton 7-11
Winnipeg 6-12
Hamilton 6-12

No Divisions Playoff Setup
#6 Edmonton at #3 Montreal
#5 Saskatchewan at #4 Toronto

Higher remaining seed at #2 Calgary
Lower remaining seed at #1 BC

Yet another season where the top two teams based on record reside in the West. Yet another season where the West has 4 playoff teams as opposed to two in the East. Yet more ammunition for the No Divisions crowd.

2013 Actual Standings

East
Toronto 11-7
Hamilton 10-8
Montreal 8-10
Winnipeg 3-15

West
Calgary 14-4
Saskatchewan 11-7
BC 11-7
Edmonton 4-14

Actual Playoff Setup
Montreal at Hamilton, East Semi, winner to Toronto
BC at Saskatchewan, West Semi, winner to Calgary

2013 No Divisions
Calgary 14-4
Saskatchewan 11-7
Toronto 11-7
BC 11-7
Hamilton 10-8
Montreal 8-10
Edmonton 4-14
Winnipeg 3-15

No Divisions Playoff Setup
#6 Montreal at #3 Toronto
#5 Hamilton at #4 BC

Higher remaining seed at #2 Saskatchewan
Lower remaining seed at #1 Calgary

Tiebreakers cause another situation where the West is hosting both finals, and the East only hosts one playoff game altogether.

2014 Actual Standings

East
Hamilton 9-9
Montreal 9-9
Toronto 8-10
Ottawa 2-16

West
Calgary 15-3
Edmonton 12-6
Saskatchewan 10-8
BC 9-9
Winnipeg 7-11

Actual Playoff Setup
BC at Montreal, East Semi (BC crosses over), winner to Hamilton
Saskatchewan at Edmonton, West Semi, winner to Calgary

2014 No Divisions
Calgary 15-3
Edmonton 12-6
Saskatchewan 10-8
BC 9-9
Hamilton 9-9
Montreal 9-9
Toronto 8-10
Winnipeg 7-11
Ottawa 2-16

No Divisions Playoff Setup
#6 Montreal at #3 Saskatchewan
#5 Hamilton at #4 BC
Higher remaining seed at #2 Edmonton
Lower remaining seed at #1 Calgary

This is the poster child for the No Divisions movement. The top 4 teams in a no division playoff setup are from the West, and even if BC had lost their tiebreakers, the West would have had the top 3! Instead, in reality, the 2nd and 3rd best teams met in the West Semi-Final (which is likely to happen this year as well).

2015 Actual Standings

East
Ottawa 12-6
Hamilton 10-8
Toronto 10-8
Montreal 6-12

West
Edmonton 14-4
Calgary 14-4
BC 7-11
Winnipeg 5-13
Saskatchewan 3-15

Actual Playoff Setup
Toronto at Hamilton, East Semi, winner to Ottawa
BC at Calgary, West Semi, winner to Edmonton

2015 No Divisions
Edmonton 14-4
Calgary 14-4
Ottawa 12-6
Hamilton 10-8
Toronto 10-8
BC 7-11
Montreal 6-12
Winnipeg 5-13
Saskatchewan 3-15

No Divisions Playoff Setup
#6 BC at #3 Ottawa
#5 Toronto at #4 Hamilton

Higher remaining seed at #2 Calgary
Lower remaining seed at #1 Edmonton

This is a bit of a weird year, where the top two teams are out West, and then the East has the next three teams. Calgary went 14-4 and didn’t even get a bye in the playoffs.

Some final thoughts:

No season was exactly the same when it came to how each playoff format would have gone. There were a few years where the Semi-Finals set up the same way, but the teams that won in reality would have changed the matchups in the Final round.

There were nine times when the West had their second place team better than the first place team out East, and three times when the East had their second place team better than the first place team out West. This means that in 12 of the 20 seasons, the second-best team in the league did not receive a bye, and a team that had a worse record did. It was actually fairly even in the first decade of the study, but the West has been an unstoppable force in recent years.

The current system does a good job in getting the top six teams into the playoffs. In the 20 seasons of this study, the top six in a No Division format made the playoffs in the current format. The only thing that changes is seeding for the playoffs.

One of the hesitations I have about adopting a No Divisions format is how the 18-game schedule will be devised. Teams currently play two of their divisional foes three times in a season. A 10th team would make it so that each team plays every opponent twice in the regular season, all the more reason to root for that elusive 10th team to show up in the near future (but I’m not holding my breath….).

I came into this leaning toward keeping the current system due to its historic value, especially the East-West Grey Cup. I’m not sure I’m completely convinced otherwise, because I love tradition, but the numbers don’t lie. There is an inherent unfairness in the current system as it stands.

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