Yesterday I posed a question to our friends at the Solid Verbal (side note: if you aren't listening to these guys on a regular basis, and you like college football, open a new tab and subscribe to the podcast right now. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200), asking:
If a college football program started in Mexico City and in Canada at the same time, all other things being equal, which program is most likely to be successful in 10 years, and how long would it take for Jim Delany to try and add them to the Big Ten?
The venerable hosts didn't answer the Delany bit (probably because it's obvious he'd try to poach them like yesterday, especially if that Canadian college was U. Toronto or McGill), but both weighed in, thinking that the Canadian college would be more likely to be the better program. The Verba's Dan Rubenstein also correctly admonished me for my terrible geography, since Mexico City is a...city, and Canada is a country. I meant to type Toronto instead of Canada. Carmen Sandiego would be SO mad right now.
I feel like this is a question that deserves a little more thought, though. In this hypothetical, let's pretend that just about everything else is equal. Two new fairly large, research-based institutions are formed in nice, safe neighborhoods in Toronto and Mexico City. Both schools are strong enough academically that they could conceivably draw in good American students (although they would be majority Canadian or Mexican respectively), both schools have nice, 30-,000-55,000-ish person stadiums, supportive administrations, and relatively equivalent budgets (let's say the Mexican school has a little more money to spend, since they will likely have to spend more on travel costs to get to American teams).
Over a decade, who would be the better program? Let's break it down:
Existing football infrastructure
They've been playing football in Canada for a long time, even if they use silly rules, like getting rid of 4th down, or having 12 men on the field per team at a time. You've probably heard of Canada's popular CFL, their professional football league where Warren Moon, Doug Flutie, and Jeff Garcia cut their chops. Canada also offers a post-secondary league, some limited college football, and high school football, albeit at a much smaller scale than in the United States. Growing up in Central Ohio, it wasn't uncommon for one or two high school squads from Canada to come down and completely get their asses kicked by an Ohio team that couldn't find another non-conference game, as part of some ambassadorship for the sport or whatever. Rivals even has a page to scout and break down Canadian prospects, so you KNOW they've made the big time.
American football is being played in Mexico as well, albeit on a smaller scale. The National Student Organization of American Football (the ONEFA) was founded in 1978 (though some of the teams have been playing since the 1940s) with 17 universities playing American college football at their highest level, most in Mexico City. A handful of Mexican high schools even play football, with one recently beating a highly ranked team in Texas, which is basically like beating UMass (not really).
Advantage: Toronto. At the early onset, Canada simply has more kids playing prep football at a higher level and has easier access to a professional league. There are strong seeds for growth in Mexico that we'll get to in a little bit, but Canada has the advantage for now.
The NFL is bullish about the growth of the sport in Mexico. This Deadspin article from January says the NFL claims that a quarter of the country is a fan of the NFL, and that there are over six million 'avid' NFL fans in the country, with over one million Mexican kids playing the sport. When Arizona and San Fransisco played a regular season NFL game in Mexico City back in 2005, it drew 103,000 fans, a number even the SEC could respect. It also helps that Mexico City itself is *huge*. At nearly nine million residents, it's currently the second biggest city in the world, occasionally flipflopping with Toyko, Sao Paulo, Mumbai and Seoul. That's a lot of eyeballs, a lot of potential fans, and a lot of potential athletes.
Toronto isn't exactly small. It's got over 2.5 million in the city proper, good for the largest city in Canada, and about the size of Chicago. Their mayor is actually a prominent high school football coach, but you probably know him better for his alleged, ahem, extra curricular activities. Toronto is home of the Toronto Argonauts, the current Grey Cup (CFL) champs, and one of the more popular teams in the CFL, as well as the occasional remote home of the Buffalo Bills.
Advantage: Mexico City. It isn't that Toronto is in a bad place, it's just that Mexico City is so much bigger. If we are to believe the Deadspin article that 25% of Mexico follows professional American football, that's a potential fanbase of nearly 28 million people, with the most avid concentrated around a growing Mexico City. For comparison's sake, the entire population of Canada is 34 million. If an FBS football team is able to capture the imagination and loyalty of even a fraction of that potential fanbase, they could be sitting on a powerhouse.
Plus, all of that is saying nothing about the potential for a Mexican FBS side to find fans in the US, given the significant population growth among Mexican-Americans in the United States. You know how schools like Notre Dame and BYU are able to build national fanbases in part because of a particular appeal to certain demographic groups? Who is to say the Mexico City Tech Dragons couldn't do that in the US?
Natural Rivalry Potential
If we're just going geographically here, you'd assume the Canadian team would be in high demand with the midwestern and eastern squads, and the Mexican team would play a lot of Texas and Southwest teams.
What's a sample Toronto schedule? Buffalo, Syracuse, Michigan, Notre Dame, a few other MAC schools, maybe an Ohio State? Maybe a Rutgers? Maybe a Maryland game in Washington D.C.? Not a bad list.
For Mexico City? Surely you'd get UTEP, your New Mexico's, maybe a Jan Brewer Bowl with Arizona State (THAT would be interesting); probably some games with Texas heavyweights. I think an underrated advantage here though is the proliferation of Mexican-Americans in many non-southern cities. A Mexican team playing in say, Chicago, could draw a lot of fans.
Advantage: Mexico City
This is the elephant in the room, right? On one hand, I'd have to assume that Mexico City Tech would be offering classes in Spanish. At the very least, students going there are going to have to be bilingual, and that alone is going to disqualify you from a lot of potential kids. Playing out of the U.S. is going to be a tough sell no matter what, and a Canadian team could probably sell an easier cultural transition for a lot of Americans. Plus, let's not forget, Mexico City is statistically more dangerous than Toronto.
That being said, winter in Canada can be brutal. We've already written a ton of articles about how rust belt states are losing population and struggling to compete for recruits with warmer climates, something that would probably hurt Toronto. "Hey there 17 year old! How do you like Milwaukee? Would you like to go somewhere even colder??"
Advantage: In the short term, it's probably Toronto, but over a time period longer than a decade, I think it eventually goes Mexico City. Who wants to study abroad in Canada?
Conference Affiliation and Wild Cards
For Toronto, while the idea of a Canadian institution playing in The American is hysterical, if it was a hypothetically strong academic institution, you'd have to think the Big Ten snatches them up as soon as they're viable from a competitive standpoint, especially if there was a way they could be gerrymandered into the AAU (hey, McGill and Toronto are members; just sayin'). Cold city, regional rivalry potential, sweet sweet BTN eyeballs? Sounds B1G all the way – once they're at least on Maryland and Rutgers' level, that is.
Mexico City Tech has some serious underrated College Football Outlaw potential, given the (admittedly negative) stereotypes of comparative lawlessness. If you want a program that could potentially out-SMU SMU, I think that's your man. This feels like a Big 12 school to me.
In a 10 year time period, I think I'd have to agree with Dan and Ty that the existing football pipeline in Canada would lead to a more successful football program. Over the long haul though, as more and more Mexican kids get hooked on American football and the demographics of the US changes, it wouldn't be a huge surprise to someday see our pretend Mexico Tech hold up that Crystal Football.