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Montreal Alouettes running back Brandon Whitaker, right, scores a touchdown behind Toronto Argonauts defenders Pacino Horne and Raymond Brown during the first half of their CFL football preseason game in Toronto June 19, 2012. (MIKE CASSESE/REUTERS)
Montreal Alouettes running back Brandon Whitaker, right, scores a touchdown behind Toronto Argonauts defenders Pacino Horne and Raymond Brown during the first half of their CFL football preseason game in Toronto June 19, 2012. (MIKE CASSESE/REUTERS)

Jeff Blair

Fields of frustration abound in CFL Add to ...

The kids had started to filter into the Rogers Centre with their kid signs and kid backpacks and now they were given thunder sticks. My goodness, that must have been some school bus ride home.

If some of Chris Rudge’s other Plan B’s work out as good as giving out 30,000 tickets to school kids for a noontime CFL preseason game Tuesday against the Montreal Alouettes, then who knows? His bold talk of putting the Argonauts in the black by 2014 might have substance beyond his considerable reputation. As chairman and chief executive officer of the 100th Grey Cup Festival as well as executive chairman and CEO of the Argos, Rudge originally wanted the preseason game played at Varsity Stadium, which after all has hosted more Grey Cups (29) than any other stadium. But work on Varsity interfered, so given the Argos and their involvement with Tim Horton’s in the Huddle Up Bullying Prevention Program, hooking up with what turned out to be 17 different school boards made sense.

This has been a strange week even by CFL standards, what with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers finding out that their new stadium won’t be ready at all in 2012 (oops) and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ sneaking suspicion that negotiations with McMaster University on a temporary home in 2013 really were going too well – so well, it turns out, that McMaster pulled the rug out from under the team. “Six wasted weeks,” in the words of Ticats president Scott Mitchell.

Yet CFL commissioner Mark Cohon sees the Ticats’ Plan B as having potential: while their Ivor Wynne Stadium is rebuilt in time for the 2014 season, the Ticats will play some games at university stadiums in London, Guelph, both Ont., and maybe even in Moncton, N.B. Truth is, the Ticats were not caught totally off-guard by McMaster’s decision. They have feasibility studies in hand, and the long-term plan for the team heading into a new Ivor Wynne Stadium is based on regionalization. “The more they do as part of that plan is going to help their bottom line in the future,” Cohon said.

Mitchell won’t say it, but the guess here is the Ticats have held their last training camp at McMaster even when Ivor Wynne is finished and that McMaster will not figure in a search for a temporary practice facility in Hamilton next season. That’s about a $200,000 kick in the pants for the school.

Mitchell doesn’t foresee a repeat of Winnipeg, since the three proposals submitted to the team include roughly 18 months of completed engineering studies. “It’s almost impossible for it [the construction and opening of the new stadium] to not happen on time,” Mitchell said.

The Argos are renegotiating their lease at Rogers Centre, at a time when increased revenue has become a mantra for the landlords, and with Paul Beeston’s off-season words about replacing the stadium’s artificial turf with natural grass – and essentially evicting the Argos – raising a red flag.

“If they [the Blue Jays and Rogers] ever make a real decision, it becomes an issue,” Rudge said. “Right now it isn’t, and I don’t have any sense it will happen for the next four or five years.

“For the Rogers people, it’s more than simply taking out the artificial turf you see there and putting down grass. There are many other decisions they need to make about this facility. It does need a lot of refurbishing. It’s a big capital number. It’s a huge capital cost to go to grass, and it affects all the other programming you put here.”

Sources with the University of Toronto say that the Argos and U of T held discussions 18 months ago about the possibility of expanding Varsity Stadium, but they were effectively stillborn due to a combination of Nimbyism as well as finances. Varsity Stadium is a non-starter right now and don’t get Rudge started on BMO Field, where Toronto FC plays soccer.

“Bottom line, is, you have to negotiate from strength,” he said. “And right now, we’re not strong. But we’ve put all our cards on the table. We know where we want to go and we have a plan to get there, and right now the focus is a winning product on the field.”

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