Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Is this a return to the bad old days?

With the signing of John Avery have the Toronto Argonauts declared the days of fiscal prudence to be at an end? It’s an interesting question, and one which Stephen Brunt addresses in the Globe and Mail on Tuesday.

Brunt points out correctly that the nine CFL franchise holders effectively tossed aside the concept of cost certainty, when they punted Mike Lysko out the door over a year and a half ago. Lysko who ruffled more than a few of his employer’s feathers, found that going tsk tsk over the spendthrift ways of his flock was not a wise strategy. His attempts to fine offending owners to reign in the profligate spending were met with a collective yawn and a request for his key to the executive bathroom.

New commissioner Tom Wright, has not been a strong a disciple to the concept of salary caps and collectivism. Yes he gives lip service to the theory of not running amok with checkbooks, but for the most part he exhibits an adherence to a fiscal don’t ask, don’ tell policy. And he can still go to the can without fear of having the office furniture moved out on him. Say what you will, but he’s a quick study in the ways of the cabal of nine.

Toronto had the unusual victory of beating the Eskimos out for one of the horses from their stable. Edmonton apparently offered more money for Avery, but the lure of Toronto and a personal rapport with Pinball Clemons swayed Avery over to the double blue.

Brunt examines how the new financial spikes might impact on the other teams in the league, but basically advises that the complaining franchises may be reaping what they have sewn. Ottawa for instance may grumble about the change in league dynamics, but when push came to shove they too were helping Lysko find the door. They of course may have legitimate gripe, for it was their 1/7th share that kept both Hamilton and Toronto alive last year, now they sit back and watch both of those teams flush with new money change the landscape of CFL finances.

The CFL salary cap has always been more of an idealistic wish than a hard, cold fact. Montreal surely can’t be holding to a salary cap with that talented roster, nor BC despite David Braley’s insistence that his team is in compliance. For years Hugh Cambpell in Edmonton has managed to cobble together contending teams with nudges and winks. Who knows what side deals, deferred payments or creative partnerships may actually do to any teams' balance sheet?

For the Toronto ownership it’s all about creating a buzz about a largely ignored team of late. They probably are looking at Avery’s million dollars over four years as an investment to rebuild the franchises’ reputation. And at first blush they may have a point, not since Rocket Ismail and Doug Flutie, have the Argos found themselves on the sports pages, at the same time as the Leafs battle in the playoffs. Avery’s signing yesterday managed to squeak the Argos in between reports of Joe Nieuwendyk, Owen Nolan and Mats Sundin injuries and any other hangnails that threaten the Leafs chances for the Stanley Cup.

For the Argos, Avery’s large contract signals intent to rebuild and hopefully prosper. For their fellow owners the Avery move signals a need to examine their bank statements some will choose to stay their fiscal course, counting the pennies and treating nickels like manholes. But some will no doubt answer the challenge of the Toronto moves. What remains to be seen is whether things spiral out of control again, taking the league to the edge of extinction again. They’ve been to that black hole once or twice before, are they really ready to creep toward the edge again?

Monday, April 26, 2004

Strong on the field, secure at the bank! Roughriders looking forward to 2004!

Basking in the financial glow of last years successful Grey Cup. The Saskatchewan Roughriders head into the 2004 season with high expectations.

As the Green Riders get ready to open up their training camp, the look at a roster that is extremely strong in some places offering up the trading chips to secure those areas where they need some help.

The topic on everyone’s mind across the CFL these days is who the Riders will go with at the Quarterback position; the Riders are the envy of the league with three quality pivots vying for the starting job. It’s expected that the riders will be watching closely as Henry Burris pushes incumbent Nealon Greene for the starter’s position, with Kevin Glenn an outside chance of claiming the spot. Regardless of whom GM Roy Shivers and Coach Danny Barrett eventually settle on, they have some great trade bait when the dust settles.

There’s not a team in the league which wouldn’t want to bring in a Greene, Burris or Glenn to help out the offence. So once the starter becomes apparent the Riders will be soliciting trade offers, the need is for a middle line backer or defensive end. Teams with available options should get their name in early, the only criteria the Riders have is that any offers must include starters, back up players won’t be part of any deal for the QB glut.

They also have a couple of holes to fill in as two former Riders head off to test the NFL waters, Wide receiver Matt Dominguez and running back Kenton Keith have both headed south to seek fame and fortune, so their spots will have to be filled in the line up. But Barrett is not overly worried about finding replacements for them; his more pressing concern is on the Defense. Having the ace in the form of his QB situation gives him some room to maneuver heading into camp.

Off the field things are coming along nicely, the Riders posted a $27,058 surplus for 2003, thanks to the two million dollar win fall provided by the Grey Cup. That surplus helped the take the Riders out of debt for the first time since the 1980’s. They have also added a new financing feature that is being received warmly across the football world.

The Riders are in the process of selling 250 dollar shares in the franchise and so far have sold over 2,000 of the 20,000 up for offer. The shares have so far brought in an additional 500,000 in revenue. The money is to be used to provide a more stable base for the storied franchise, patterned after a similar program in Green Bay.

Life in Saskatchewan has always been about a bit of hard work, a bit of faith and a bit of luck. They are the same three elements that the football club lives by, as they get ready to kick off the 2004 training camp they may be about to reap the harvest of their work the last few years. The fans in the stands are looking forward to the upcoming season, in next year country; next year may finally be here!

Argos cash in the winning bid

John Avery held all the cards, the Argos ponied up the winning bid. The 28 year old running back signed a four year deal with Toronto after taking the weekend to consider the Argos bid against the options provided by his former team the Eskimos.

In his last year in the CFL in 2002, Avery led the league in rushing with 1,448 yards on the ground, 387 yards in receptions and 661 kickoff return yards. It was such a successful year that he attracted the attention of the Minnesota Vikings of the NFL. Avery spent 2003 as part of the Vikings roster, appearing in 6 games before suffering a season ending knee injury.

Claiming that he’s at 90% efficiency now, Avery felt that his best interests were served returning to the CFL. His only decision was whether it would be back in Edmonton or with another team. Toronto stepped up to the table and made the better offer, closing the deal with a personal appearance from Pinball Clemens, who made a special trip to see Avery just after attending to his father’s funeral arrangements. That kind of personal touch which explains much of Clemens respect in the CFL swayed Avery towards the Argos.

Of course the money doesn’t hurt either, while no terms were released at today’s press conference, it’s rumored that Avery will be making $250,000 a year over the course of his four year deal.

The Argos management team was full of smiles during and after the announcement, hailing the signing as another step in the quest for respectability. The signing of a high profile player like Avery sends a message to their fans, that the team is serious about putting a competitive and exciting product on the field this seasons.

When Avery reports to training camp later next month he’ll be competing with Michael Jenkins and former Heisman trophy winner Rashaan Salaam, who signed with the boatmen earlier this year.

Clemons says that the Argos plan on keeping two of the three running backs on their active roster. It will all come down to who is the healthiest by the time camp breaks in mid June. Whichever backs the Argos end up running with, one thing is certain the yards gained in 2004 are bound to be an exciting part of the Argo attack. Good news for the long suffering fans of the double blue.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Pivot-al deciisons to make in Steeltown.

Danny Mac will get the start this year in Hamilton, the 38 year old McManus getting the vote of confidence from coach Greg Marshall as the team gets ready to head for training camp next month. Marshall who will be making his CFL head coaching debut, is willing to let McManus take the helm again this year and try and reverse last years 1-17 nightmare season.

But the Ti-Cats aren’t going to waste all of McManus’ experience; the plan is to bring in some new blood to eventually take over the job from McManus as his years wind down in the CFL. Coming to training camp with high expectations will be James McPherson of Wake Forest and the returning David Corley Jr. The Ti-Cats are also working to phones to try and get one more QB prospect into camp by the end of May. Saskatchewan the most frequent recipient of GM Ron Lancaster‘s phone calls, as they Green Riders sit with a bountiful harvest of QB’s under contract.

One of the reasons’s that Marshall is willing to go with Danny Mac for one more year is the improvement in his receiver corps this year. Last year McManus must have been trying to find follicles to pull out after his passes were dropped time and time again. The thinking in Hamilton is that with the likes of D.J. flick, Mike Morealle and possibly Edmonton’s Jason Tucker running the pass routes, McManus may find his stats improving greatly this year.

With six weeks to go before training camp, the terrible atmosphere of last year is getting washed away like a grimy Hamilton snow bank. The positive vibes coming out of Ivor Wynne might be the biggest change of all in the Cats lineup, the anticipation for the New Year growing daily. You get the feeling that the coaches and players wish they could strap on the pads and get to the two a days as soon as possible

They're thinking football in the Peg!

With the warm weather arriving and the Red River rising, Winnipeg Football fans are making the stroll down to Maroons Road and picking up those season tickets. And judging by the pace of things they’re expecting some good things from the Blue this year.

Winnipeg is ahead of last year’s season ticket renewal pace having sold 14,273 season tickets to CanadInn stadium this year. It’s a vote of confidence in the steps that the Bombers management have made, in assembling a competitive team this year. Last year by the time the first kickoff of the year took place the Blue had sold over 17,900 season tickets. With about six weeks until the first kick off of the 2004 season, the Bombers are hoping to improve on that number.

GM Brendan Taman has been busy bringing in some new talent for head coach Dave Ritchie to work with this year, as the Blue will have some holes to fill with free agency, retirements and such taking its toll on the line up. Taman also is continuing with his discussions with Khari Jones’ agent Gil Scott, in a bid to extend the popular quarterback’s time in a Blue and Gold uniform.

But as far as the fans are concerned it’s time to put up some cash, and they’ve done their part so far. Come the end of May it will be up to the coaching staff and players to reward them for their good faith!

Zebras get a mentor and a plan of action!

The long suffering referee of Canadian football is about to gain a guide, someone to help them blaze that trail between obstinate GM’s, vociferous coaches, mercurial players and howling fans.

George Black has been named Director of Officiating for the CFL, a position which has never really existed in the CFL before. The net result of which, were inconsistent performances from the zebras from game to game. It’s hoped that by having a dedicated executive in charge of the handling of the day to day officiating, the league will find that the game to game experience will remain constantly positive.

Black who retired his officials whistle from active duty following the 2000 season, has been operating as a form of supervisor and evaluator for the league ever since. The move up into a director’s position, gives a bit of weight to the importance that the league is now taking to it’s on field presentation. Giving the officials one more resource to rely on as they try to keep pace with the ever changing game.

In addition to the naming of Black as the Director, the league plans on getting more involved in the grass roots aspect of recruiting and training future CFL officials. Taking part in a Winnipeg conference, the CFL promised to get more involved with minor and junior football, helping to create an atmosphere for young referees to learn their craft and progress from level to level. Something the newly announced Director will most likely have a hand in chance to participate in.

In his other life, Black recently retired from the Toronto School Board after 32 years as an educator and a principal. So for the upcoming class of 2004 referees and officials it had best be a season on their best behavior, otherwise report card time won’t be a bundle of joy, and if things don’t improve there’s always the possibility of detention!