Game Balls: Happy Canada Day

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Another happy Friday to you all, a pleasant July, and a merry Canada Day to our neighbors up north.

Much like America’s own Independence Day, Canada Day celebrates the nation’s gradual departure from the British Empire with the ratification of the 1867 Constitution Act.

See, before England craved isolationism, it sought to unify the world under its own banner. As Canadian artist Alanis Morissette said: Isn’t it ironic? Dontcha think?

As is a Canada Day custom, the CFL features a slate of games. Much like other Canadian practices, this tradition of independence day football is something the United States really needs to consider. What could be more American than football on July 4?

Credit former Ohio State Buckeye Duron Carter for bringing at least one American tradition north of the border: Americans behaving belligerently in foreign countries.

Of course, Carter’s brawl-incitement is an outlier. American influence free from fisticuffs runs throughout the CFL. In two of Canada Day’s contests, for example, the starting quarterbacks are former Ole Miss-via-Oregon play-caller Jeremiah Masoli, and Eastern Washington’s Walter Payton Award winner, Bo Levi Mitchell.

In fact, CFL rosters feature far more American talent than domestic. Canada’s answer to Donald Trump could focus a campaign around building a wall at the border, with a promise to “Make The CFL Great Again.”

While Canada sends players to American college rosters with some regularity, one of the more unique instances of Canadian influence on America’s game is the recent addition of Simon Fraser to the Div. II ranks.

Simon Fraser’s very nickname — the Clan — underscores differences between American and Canadian history and culture. I don’t see that flying as a U.S. team’s name.

Since joining the NCAA in the 2011-’12 academic calendar year, Simon Fraser’s faced some culture shock adapting to American football. The Clan finished 0-9 in 2015.

Meanwhile, provincial neighbors the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds won last season’s Vanier Cup, the Canadian national championship, beating the defending champion Montreal Carabins, 26-23.

DEFINING POWER

UBC’s run to the Vanier Cup was described as the completion of “a dream season.” The same can be said of Coastal Carolina’s impressive College World Series journey, which completed yesterday in a white-knuckled, 4-3 defeat of Arizona.

The Chanticleers’ baseball championship capped what was a tremendous year for programs outside of the football-defined Power Five. Coastal Carolina represented the Big South — though officially moves to the Sun Belt today for all sports except football — women’s basketball champion Connecticut came from the American, and men’s basketball champion Villanova represented the Big East. Villanova’s football team plays in the FCS Colonial Athletic Association.

Those versions of the NCAA championship emphasize just how different football is from its counterparts. On the gridiron, a steel-reinforced glass ceiling exists.

Now, you might point to a few facts to downplay this. For example, Connecticut’s a long-established power in women’s basketball, and ditto men’s hoops. Villanova may play football in FCS, but its basketball plays a cornerstone role in the Big East, which is a “power” league by basketball’s loosely defined standards.

But that the definition of power is ambiguous in other sports speaks to the difference in say, basketball vs. football. Power’s defined more by quality than monetary value, thus a conference made up of Catholic schools with low numbers of undergrads can be viewed more favorably than the cash-rich SEC.

If football defined power strictly by success, AAC commissioner Mike Aresco’s assertion that the American is a sixth power conference would be true.

HAPPY NEW YEAR

July 1 signifies not only Canada Day, but the official start of a new college athletics calendar year. Much like we do on Jan. 1, I have to recount the blessings of the past 3656 days on this July 1.

In the 2015-’16 college sports year, I had the opportunity to cover some great people and events. I witnessed a defining performance from a Heisman Trophy finalist in the Pac-12 Championship Game for a second straight year, covering Marcus Mariota in 2014 and Christian McCaffrey in 2015. McCaffrey’s showing against USC was arguably one of the two best showings in a season that will go down as one of college football’s greatest ever.

In 2015-’16, I also crossed two items off my Sports Journalism Bucket List: the Rose Bowl, and the Final Four.

Both the Rose Bowl and Final Four were events that, in my youth, exuded an indescribable magic. The real thing lived up to my childhood wonderment.

It doesn’t hurt that in my first Granddaddy of ‘Em All, aforementioned Christian McCaffrey put on yet another show. Likewise, my first Final Four concluded with Villanova delivering perhaps the most memorable finish of any basketball championship game in NCAA history.

Thank you to everyone who made the past college sports year possible, especially you readers. I’ll continue to keep working to get better, just as long as you continue reading.

GO HOGS

May your holiday weekend grilling meet your wildest expectations, even if your expectations cap at the Liberty Bowl.