All is not perfect in the CFL. It never is. As Saturday Night Live’s Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say of life, “It’s always something.” The Toronto Argonauts are proof of that.
But right now in the CFL’s sometimes storied, often troubled existence, things are largely calm. There is no labour strife, no club on the brink of financial collapse. There are refurbished stadiums in B.C. and Edmonton, more seats in Montreal and new stadiums being built in Winnipeg and eventually Hamilton. The CFL has a drug-testing policy in place and has taken a hard stand against coaches and players criticizing officials while firing an on-field official for sub-par efforts.
Commissioner Mark Cohon played a significant role in all of that and will address the 2011 developments during Friday’s state-of-the-league news conference. As always, there is still stuff to fix. But here’s the underlying question: will Cohon be around past 2012 to carry on his upgrading of the CFL?
The league’s board of governors has begun talks on a contract extension for Cohon, who has been commissioner since 2007. Some governors have already been quoted anonymously in the Winnipeg Free Press saying the CFL head office is spending too much and that revenue-distribution payments to the eight teams have flattened over the past few years.
Trying to keep the owners in line, let alone making them happy, is akin to herding cobras. There’s always a lot of hissing going on. But Cohon has been the kind of savvy facilitator the league has needed to make improvements and keep most of his bosses on side. Keeping him in office should be a priority because there are encouraging signs.
The 100th anniversary of the Grey Cup game, set for Toronto next November, is being counted on to spark new interest throughout Southern Ontario. What would help that immensely would be a playoff push by the Argonauts, who crashed back to earth after a 2010 show of promise. For now, David Braley is content to own both the Argos and B.C. Lions and said earlier this week he has had interested buyers in both clubs. He declined to say which team he’d sell first but insisted plans were under way to market and manage the Argos like never before.
The other hope for Ontario is that the legal trifles in Ottawa are finally resolved and a return to the Nation’s Capital goes as planned in 2014, with a new stadium, too. (This time, the newest Ottawa team will be stocked by a true player-dispersal draft and not saddled with the dregs of the league.)
As for the CFL’s television ratings, which suffered a 19-per-cent drop compared to last year’s 100-per-cent increase, the numbers are telling but not void of explanation. Poor showings by the Argonauts, Saskatchewan Roughriders and the B.C. Lions’ 1-6 start took some zing out of the games. Some have argued TSN could use a fresh approach to broadcasting games, a point the network may already be addressing. (There will be a hefty number of cameras, 39, covering Sunday’s game, the most in Grey Cup history.)
Adjusting the TV picture is crucial for the CFL since its broadcast rights are up for renewal in 2013. As the second-most-watched sports entity in Canada, behind the NHL, the CFL has a niche to sell and Cohon, the son of McDonald’s of Canada founder George Cohon, understands that as well as anyone. You want to make the game as visually striking for TV but you also want people going to the park to see and feel the action live.
That’s the balance the CFL needs to find. To this point, that’s pretty much what Cohon has brought to the league, a sense of stability and a willingness to explore all ideas (such as securing a long-term sponsor for the Grey Cup game).
Things aren’t perfect but they’re not chaotic. The league knows where the potholes are but they haven’t turned into the Three Stooges trying to clean them up.
Besides, as the past has shown, the governors could do a lot worse than Cohon at commissioner. How do you think they got themselves in so much trouble, anyway?