The CFL not fazed by proposed North American Football League


August 07, 1994|By KEN MURRAY

There's one born every minute, it seems.

Pro football leagues, that is.

Working on the premise there is always room for one more, a former United States Football League executive is attempting to bring the North American Football League to the U.S. in 1995.

Steve Ehrhart, who served as director of administration for the long-gone USFL and more recently as William Dunavant's right-hand man in Memphis' bid for an NFL expansion team, is chairman of a five-man executive council for the prenatal NAFL.

Nine days ago in St. Louis, Ehrhart met with representatives from 11 cities to measure interest and pocket depth. If successful, his venture would be a critical blow to the Canadian Football League's expansion plans in the United States.

That's because several of those cities -- Memphis, Oakland, St. Louis, San Antonio and New York -- have been prominently mentioned in the CFL's plans.

But Larry Ryckman, owner of the Calgary Stampeders and chairman of the CFL expansion committee, isn't worried. He said he thinks the movers and shakers of the new league want to get into the CFL forless than the $6 million expansion fee established for 1995.

"By the time we expand by four more teams, these guys will not even be out of the chute," Ryckman said. "We will be in eight U.S. cities, tying up the markets they're looking at.

"The expansion fee is not a problem for real players. This is a bunch of guys trying to get into pro sports cheap. We're no longer concerned about these guys."

The NAFL is an offshoot of the "A League," a concept introduced by former Minnesota Vikings executive Mike Lynn in which corporate sponsors would pay the bills. But Lynn didn't deliver and the concept disappeared. Enter the NAFL with its $1 million entry fee.

Pepper Rodgers, who also worked on Memphis' NFL expansion bid, said he thinks the $1 million fee makes more fiscal sense than the CFL's $6 million fee.

"Nobody here is going to do that [meet the CFL price]," Rodgers said. "We're hard and fast on that."

Rodgers nevertheless believes the CFL is still an option for Memphis. He contends the CFL needs cities like Memphis, St. Louis and San Antonio if it is to reach its goal of a lucrative network TV contract in the U.S. And, in fact, that's how the CFL views the situation.

Now it's a matter of whether the CFL lets new franchises in at $6 million or the $3 million that Baltimore owner Jim Speros paid last February.

Speros said there is "flexibility" in the price. "It's $6 million with terms," Speros said. "If you pay in cash, there's a discount. It's financed over three years, so it's actually closer to $5.4 million."

Speros said he doubts the NAFL has the finances to get off the ground.

"Owners like Larry Ryckman and Bill Comrie [of the British Columbia Lions] say don't panic and lower the price just because these guys say they're going to do something," Speros said. "We know how hard it is to do it. To start a league up, you need a substantial amount of money."

Remember the Alamo

Ryckman is interested in San Antonio, himself, at least as a point of reference in negotiations with the city of Calgary over his stadium lease.

He pays $1 million a year to use McMahon Stadium -- and gets no revenue from parking, advertising or concessions. Since bailing out the debt-ridden Stampeders three years ago, Ryckman has been attempting to get a better deal. His lease expired last April.

"I won't stay if I'm going to lose $1 million a year," he said. "The team is doing everything it can to be viable in the market. I'm at the end of my rope. If I took a team with Doug Flutie to San Antonio, or another market, they'd eat this up."

One hang-up. Ryckman said he was voted among the top four most influential businessman in Calgary on its 100th anniversary.

"How do I leave a city after that?" he asked. "I think we'll find a solution."

The Flutie phenomenon

Flutie already owns the CFL record for most passing yards in a season. Now he's working on the single-season rushing record for quarterbacks.

After five games, Flutie has rushed for 343 yards for Calgary. That pace -- 68.6 yards a game -- would give him 1,235 yards for 18 regular-season games. And that would break Tracy Ham's record of 1,096 yards set in 1990 for the Edmonton Eskimos.

Flutie has run for 104 yards against Winnipeg, 91 against Ottawa, and 82 against Baltimore. He's only 30 yards behind his season to tal of 373 rushing yards a year ago.

"It's almost like I have to run to get player of the week and get noticed," he said. "This year I'm not running any more, but I'm getting more yardage."

Not that it has diminished his passing game.

He's thrown for 1,606 yards (a 321.2 per-game average) and 13 touchdowns so far. His single-season passing record is 6,619 yards, set in 1991 for the B.C. Lions.

Sacked, twice

It was bad enough when Shreveport quarterback Terrence Jones was benched following the Pirates' third series in a 24-10 loss to Edmonton in Week 4. But the worst part was still to come.

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