The Canadian Football League (CFL; French: Ligue Canadienne de Football) is a professional league located entirely in Canada that plays Canadian football. The league's top trophy, the Grey Cup, was donated by Governor General Earl Grey in 1909 to the team winning the Senior Amateur Football Championship of Canada. Both the trophy and the championship game have become known as the Grey Cup. Since 1954, when the Ontario Rugby Football Union stopped challenging for the Grey Cup, the trophy has been awarded only to professional teams with the championship generally being an East vs. West competition. This is also the year the British Columbia Lions started play as the ninth professional team, so although the CFL was not technically founded until the late 1950's, 1954 is often referred to as the start of the "modern era" of Canadian professional football. It is also considered to be the year the CFL was founded in substance if not in name.
The first Canadian football teams played under the auspices of the Canadian Rugby Football Union (CRFU), founded in 1884. The CRFU was an umbrella organization that several leagues were part of. From the 1930s to the 1950s the two senior leagues of the CRFU (the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union and the Western Interprovincial Football Union) gradually evolved from amateur to professional leagues. They found they had less and less in common with the amateur leagues and consequently in 1956 they left the CRFU and formed a new umbrella organization, the Canadian Football Council. It was renamed the Canadian Football League in 1958. In 1982 the Montreal Alouettes folded and were subsequently replaced the same year by a new franchise named the Concordes. In 1986 the Concordes were renamed the Alouettes to attract more fan support, however the team folded the next year. In 1993 the league admitted its first U.S. franchise, adding the Sacramento Gold Miners in an attempt to broaden Canadian football's popular appeal and boost league revenues. After three seasons of American teams, the CFL returned to an all-Canadian format in 1996 with nine teams, however the Ottawa Rough Riders folded following the season. In 2002 the league expanded to nine teams with the Ottawa Renegades. Commissioner Tom Wright has announced that the league is looking into adding a 10th team in the Atlantic provinces or Quebec City.
Although the Canadian Football League is the highest level of competition in Canadian football, the league competes with the American National Football League for the best players. In the days when sports teams were financed almost entirely by ticket sales the two leagues were on equal footing and the CFL could sign top U.S. college football stars such as Rocket Ismail and Heisman Trophy winners Doug Flutie and Johnny Rodgers . However, in recent decades the advent of television revenue has allowed the NFL to far outspend the CFL. The CFL sets a limit on the number of non-Canadian born players on Canadian teams.
The CFL is highly popular west of Ontario, and its franchises there enjoy a greater level of support than Ontario teams. Montreal has been gaining in popularity with its recent success, and Southern Ontario is now recovering from the bankruptcy that plagued the Toronto and Hamilton teams in the 2003 season. The league is currently looking to expand into Atlantic Canada, possibly to either Moncton or Halifax. Halifax will the host of a CFL exhibition game on June 11, 2005 between the Toronto Argonauts and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
See Canadian Football Hall of Fame