Tuesday, December 11, 2007
The Canadian Football League 2007
The Grey Cup week did not begin well. The Commissioner, Mark Cohon, came out a week before the game with a state of the union address related to the promotion of NFL football in Canada. His timing was not exactly impeccable, considering the nature of his comments.
He was appointed the commissioner on March 28th, 2007. He has worked for Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and as CEO for an American Software Corporation. He graduated from Northwestern University in Chicago in Communications.
Cohon has a difficult job, to say the least. There a large numbers of NFL fans in Canada. There is a great deal of television access to NFL football in Canada. Talk show hosts and news reporters cover the NFL extensively. NFL football sucks up a lot of Canadian gambling money, legal and otherwise. Betting pools are popular in Canadian bars. There are so many fine American football players without work in the States that the Canadian league has a quota on the number of imports each team can dress for any game.
Alternative leagues for American players have been shut down, over the years. The European league was large for a while, and several fine players shuttled back and forth across the Atlantic to play on both sides of the border. The World Wrestling Federation’s guru, Vince McMahon, thought the idea of incorporating football, wrestling and kung fu fighting would be successful on the gridiron. He was wrong. The Extreme Football League, the XFL, folded shortly after its inception.
Arena Football has been successful in several American cities. It is an interesting game, and the adjustments to the smaller surface and the boards have been successful. It is entertaining to watch on television, for a half hour or so.
And then there were the days when the Canadian Football League thought that it would raid the American market to become very wealthy. The one concession the league had to make to the American teams was that they do not have to follow the Canadian import rules. In 1993, the Sacramento Gold Miners entered the CFL. In 1994, Baltimore, Maryland and Shreveport, Louisiana were in the East. Sacramento, California and Las Vegas, Nevada played in the West.
In 1995, the CFL created a Southern Division, with all American teams: Baltimore, San Antonio, Birmingham, Memphis, and Shreveport. Baltimore beat Calgary in the Grey Cup final in Regina, the last time American teams played in the CFL.
Commissioner Cohon has suggested that the arrival of NFL football into Canada is starting to look inevitable. He suggests that the league needs to “work with the NFL to grow our business.” He acknowledged to Sun Media that the “NFL spending more time north of the border is on our doorstep.” He lists a series of very powerful Canadians interested in moving the Buffalo franchise to Toronto. Players like Godfrey, Tannenbaum, Lind, and Rogers would love to jump in when Ralph Wilson’s estate is settled. Ralph is still with us, but the vultures swoop a little lower every day.
Prior to the actual Grey Cup game, I took the opportunity to speak to a few knowledgeable former players and writers still involved in the game today.
Duane Forde, former Calgary Stampeder, currently reports on the game for The Score. He began: “I’m not too excited about it. I do hope they have respect for the institution called the CFL. Naturally, there is a lot of money involved. As long as there are American cities looking for franchises, the Buffalo Bills will likely go there. It’s not as inevitable as one might think. Jim Balsillie tried to pry away the Nashville NHL franchise to Hamilton. Despite his best efforts, he failed to get the team. The league itself didn’t want it to happen, and it didn’t.”
There are no guarantees that the NFL would want to put a team in Toronto. The Rogers Centre is undersized for the NFL. And God forbid! There is little room for tailgating! Ever been to a game in Buffalo? Can’t imagine any franchise move.
Chris Schultz, currently with TSN, has been an observer of both leagues, both as a player and as an announcer. He noticed a sense of “negativity during the first three days of Grey Cup Week about the future of the league.” The feeling stemmed from Cohon’s comments. However, Schultz noted in the three days up to the game itself, “there has been a real resurgence of spirit in the CFL.”
He scanned the stands in the sold-out Rogers Centre before the game. “This is Canadian football. The stands are packed. There were huge crowds at all the pre-game parties.”
Just for fun, I asked about the import quotas for Americans. “I wouldn’t have a problem with it if they reduced it.” Such a change would naturally result in more spots for Canadian youngsters.
Steve Milton has written about football extensively in Hamilton for the Spectator for several trying years. His comments on the NFL rumblings: “I am not so certain that it will not happen. It is a corporate thing with enormous tax implications.” It would obviously have serious consequences for the Tiger Cats as well.
Alas, may the contributions of Jackie Parker and Bernie Faloney remain with us always. To the NFL: Thanks, but no thanks.