A number of Canadian high school football players officially committed to NCAA schools on Wednesday's National Signing Day, and that's certainly notable. It continues a trend we've seen of rising Canadian talent and NCAA schools more willing to look north, and what's particularly interesting is that more Canadians are being seen as key pieces at big NCAA programs; top offensive linemen like David Knevel (Nebraska) and Josiah St. John (Oklahoma) are prominent Canadian high school talents heading to established powerhouses, something that hasn't always been the case. However, amidst all the commotion over Knevel, St. John and others (TSN has a good roundup here of Canadians who made their NCAA commitments official Wednesday), it's worth remembering that there are likely substantial numbers of other top future CFL players from this year who will choose other routes than the NCAA.
That's not to diminish the accomplishments of these players, or to suggest that they're making the wrong decision by heading south of the border. Where a player should go to advance his football career's a highly individual decision, and a lot depends on how they're viewed by the coaching staff; being a star at a lesser-known institution can be far more helpful than riding the pine at a big school, but starring at a big school can be tremendously beneficial from both a CFL and NFL perspective. There are plenty of Canadians in this crop who could make notable impacts at big schools, including Knevel, St. John and James Bodanis (a former CIS player with the University of Toronto who's transferring to Michigan State), and some may shine at smaller schools, including Peter Godber (Rice) and Justin Vaughn (Fordham). Depending how things go for them, all could be players for CFL franchises to watch over the next few years. However, it's worth keeping in mind that there will also be plenty of future CFLers whose names didn't come up Wednesday thanks to their decisions to choose other football paths.
The main alternative route? Canadian Interuniversity Sport. The calibre of CIS football has been getting better and better over the years, and people are starting to notice; the record crowd and strong TV ratings for this year's Vanier Cup is evidence of that. In fact, CIS is still the primary gateway to the CFL (24 of 45 players came from the CIS ranks last year, plus 34 of 47 in 2011 and 36 of 47 in 2010). Prospects heading to CIS aren't going to draw as much attention, as there's no Canadian equivalent to National Signing Day (and that's not entirely bad; the American signing day can turn into a bit of a circus over high-school players), but many of them may end up on the CFL radar too (and in some cases, the NFL radar as well). CIS remains below the radar on many levels, and the way the organization handles business is part of that; consider the bizarre case of the 2013 Vanier Cup, which won't be linked with the Grey Cup thanks to a lack of hotel space, was apparently only bid for by Laval, and was announced by the Rouge et Or a day before CIS was supposed to hold a press conference on the subject. Still, the on-field product remains compelling, and despite some issues in the CIS-CFL relationship, plenty of future CFL players will still come through the CIS ranks. That's worth keeping in mind amidst the NCAA signing day hubbub.