Column: CFL tug of war leaves Ottawa expansion caught in the middle

Sports Beat by Riley Denver

The leadership of the Canadian Football League should be a great concern to Ottawa football fans.

Lately, league commissioner Michael Lysko’s judgment has been questionable at best.

After the terrorist attacks in the United States, the league announced it would play a full schedule of games that weekend, only to find out the next day that many of the players did not want to play. On top of that, it would be nearly impossible to get Saskatchewan to Calgary, Edmonton to Winnipeg and Hamilton to Vancouver in time to play.

Lysko announced those games were postponed until other plans could be arranged. The very next day, the CFL had rescheduled all four games for the Monday after the disaster.

Professional sports leagues are like referees: the less you see and hear them, the better the job they are doing. People read the sports section to read about athletes and games, not executives or board meetings.

What is more, Lysko’s attempts at damage control were amateurish. On an interview for The Sports Network, Lysko blamed the about-face on a previously-absent moral objection from the players instead of taking responsibility for making a tough decision, like a leader should. After all, one would think league governors and the commissioner, not quarterbacks or punters make decisions of this nature.

When the games were finally rescheduled, $21,000 worth of tickets had to be refunded in Winnipeg because Jewish Blue Bombers fans did not think of football as a priority on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the second most holy day in the Jewish calendar.

Blue Bombers president David Asper has said that his concerns about playing on so holy a day were not taken seriously by the Lysko-led front office.

Calgary Stampeders Siegfried Gutsche said the league did not even bother to consult him about the rescheduling, an action which goes against the league’s constitution. He and Asper may both be looking for financial compensation from the league for the lower turnouts at their respective games.

The vote on whether or not to grant the Brad Watters and his investors are given an Ottawa expansion team for the 2002 season has been delayed twice in a month.

Similar delays scared Grant White away from bringing football back to Frank Clair Stadium last year.

It is very possible that the reason White’s bid failed and why Watters’ bid may fail, is that the prospective owners simply do not have the money to own and operate a professional football club in Ottawa.

Historically, Ottawa football fans have been cursed with owners like Horn Chen and Bernie Glieberman, whose shoddy management and terrible teams tested the resolve of even the most loyal Roughriders fans until the team eventually folded in 1996.

But if that is the case with the Watters group, what does that say about Lysko who has publicly said bringing football back to Ottawa for the 2002 season was his first priority? He painted himself, the city and the league into a corner by imposing such a tight deadline to get this deal done.

White’s bid also failed amid accusations that the CFL wanted too high an expansion fee and could not agree with the CFL Player’s Association on issues like a dispersal draft and non-import player ratios. If these issues continue to plague the latest expansion negotiations, then Lysko has obviously not learned from the mistakes of his predecessor, Jeff Giles.

Only one year into his term as CFL commissioner, Michael Lysko is under attack. If he thinks rushing a move back to Ottawa will earn him enough good press to save his job, Ottawa might be in for more of the weak ownership that cost the city its team five years ago.

The Watters group might be the best group for the job; Brad Watters has had success running Canadian professional lacrosse teams. But if Ottawa is awarded a team just for the sake of getting it done, it will be only one of the many mistakes Michael Lysko and the CFL have made in the last year.