The Canadian Football League is again thinking of establishing teams in the United States.
When the CFL's governors meet today in Toronto, they will discuss plans for the league, including the possibility of having American-based teams playing three-down football by 2002. Only the words unmitigated disaster could describe the CFL's last venture into the United States.
From the Shreveport Pirates to the Memphis Mad Dogs, the CFL's American experiment from 1993 to 1995 was a colossal dud. Only the Baltimore Stallions live today, as the Montreal Alouettes.
Still, CFL governors will debate the idea of a return to the United States, provided it were to take place in the right markets with proper planning.
CFL president Jeff Giles told CTV Sportsnet yesterday that at least two governors are in favour of U.S. expansion and that he was open to its possibilities. It's likely those governors are American owners Robert Wetenhall of the Als and Sherwood Schwarz of the Toronto Argonauts.
"When we expanded into the States before, we didn't do it properly," Giles told CTV Sportsnet. "We were in the wrong places. People bought franchises in places like Memphis, Birmingham, places like that, because they wanted to be in the NFL and were trying to use us as some kind of steppingstone. We didn't think things out right.
"But if we do it again, we have to do it in the right places, in places like Syracuse [N.Y.] Columbus [Ohio]and Portland [Ore.] cities that aren't too far from Canadian borders and know what we're all about in Canada."
The CFL may be eager to explore expansion to the United States because the World Wrestling Federation's planned XFL league is interested in putting teams in Canada. The XFL wants to be operational in eight U.S. cities next February. After that, it wants to come to Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.
The WWF wanted to buy the CFL last year and use it as a Canadian division in a North American league. The CFL's governors declined the offer, fearing they would be forced to give up many of the game's rules, such as three downs, along with the Canadian player content.
At recent CFL meetings in Edmonton, Giles told reporters the CFL's No. 1 priority is to have a franchise back in Ottawa. The Rough Riders last played in 1996. Giles said several potential investors have surfaced in Ottawa but were waiting for guidance from the league. The CFL is preparing an outline that should be available to investors within weeks.
The CFL's governors will spend much of today being briefed on the status of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The Bombers are trying to remain a community-owned operation. To do that, club officials have said, they must sell 17,500 season tickets and raise $2.5-million by the end of next month.
The Bombers are more than $5-million in debt. They recently hired former offensive lineman Lyle Bauer as their general manager and have sold less than half of the needed total of season tickets.