The process of putting together an expansion draft for Ottawa's return to the CFL in 2013 is proving to be a challenging process.
The CFL has been working for months to get agreement on a formula that would allow Ottawa an opportunity to enter the CFL competitively when its new stadium is complete. But after much internal debate among its member teams and no resolution, the league has opted to postpone a vote originally scheduled for Thursday's board of governors meeting until the week of the Grey Cup.
Several teams say the proposed expansion draft is far too generous, would unfairly strip existing teams of their quarterbacks and Canadian depth, and give Ottawa an unfair advantage.
"We are in discussions with our teams about the workings of the expansion draft that will accommodate a team in Ottawa, perhaps as early as the 2013 season," said Kevin McDonald, the CFL's Director of Football Operations. "We hope to have a plan in place later this year, so everyone can plan accordingly."
Ottawa's return to the CFL is still a while off but owners of the new team have already started putting out feelers for a potential general manager whom they hope to hire in roughly a year. They are anxious to see the expansion draft put to rest, so that potential general managers know what they'll have to work with.
The Ottawa group was assured by the league upon buying a conditional franchise in 2008 that it would have access to enough to players to field a competitive team out of the gate.
That was critical since there is concern about whether the market would endure more seasons of losing, having been disappointed by the CFL so often in the past. The Ottawa Renegades, which lasted four seasons from 2002-05 won four, seven, five and seven games during their existence but never reached the playoffs. Previous to that, the Ottawa Rough Riders, who folded after the 1996 season, had not won more games than they lost in a single season since 1979.
"I think the CFL, to a team, realize how vital it is we start out strong," said Jeff Hunt, head of the Ottawa ownership group. "No matter what else we do - full, brand new stadium, new revitalized site, strong local ownership - everyone's credibility will be measured by the performance on the field. A great first season can almost single-handily wipe out 20-plus years of poor performance and change the way the city, and country, feel about Ottawa football. What an opportunity."
But establishing just what is a fair expansion draft formula hasn't been easy, especially when it comes to getting the buy-in from member teams on what's being proposed.
Last time Ottawa came back to the CFL, the expansion draft allowed existing CFL teams to protect two quarterbacks from their active roster. They could protect nine American players and could lose only one, while protecting seven Canadians, with a limit of four offensive lineman and one kicker. Following one round of selecting Canadians, the existing CFL teams were allowed to protect another six.
In all, Ottawa wound up with 32 players - eight quarterbacks (some on the negotiation list), eight American players and 16 Canadian players.
This time it's being proposed that each existing CFL team would be able to protect just one active quarterback, with Ottawa limited to selecting a total of three. Teams would also have to make available one offensive lineman, receiver and defensive back who were regulars during the previous season, regardless of nationality.
That would mean each current CFL team could lose one quarterback or kicker (from its active roster or negotiation list), two American players and two Canadians, plus an additional player off the negotiation list.
Ottawa would end up with three active quarterbacks, two active kickers, 16 Canadians, 16 Americans and 11 players taken from existing negotiation lists.
It's being proposed the draft take place in March, roughly three weeks after the start of free agency, with Ottawa having the right to bid and match salaries for any free agents not signed by that time.
Though Ottawa struggled during its four seasons from 2002-05, some in the league attribute that to organizational problems and not an unfair expansion draft.