So far, Baltimore success is expansion's exception

ON THE CFL

September 04, 1994|By KEN MURRAY

Canadian Football League owners are fast learning a critical lesson in U.S. expansion: There's only one Baltimore out there.

When Las Vegas Posse partner Nick Mileti was forced out last week by an angry board of directors, it was another black eye for CFL expansion.

The expansion score card already shows debacles in San Antonio (awarded a team last year, then withdrew) and Orlando, Fla. (almost awarded a team last winter, then was scratched when the would-be owner failed to show for his news conference).

Franchises in Sacramento, Calif., and Shreveport, La., are faltering, too, from lack of support or lack of competent management.

That leaves Baltimore -- which can't even use its name of choice -- as the lone beacon amid all this CFL rubble. Through the first half of the season, the CFLs are averaging 37,201 at home and have put a model team on the field.

"I don't know if there is another Baltimore," said Jim Speros, the general partner in Baltimore. "It's a unique city. That's one of the reasons I wanted to be here. This is a fertile market. If we're successful, it should breed other markets."

Maybe, maybe not. Speros believes the next wave of expansion needs to bring in major-league cities -- between two and four -- from a list that includes St. Louis; Memphis, Tenn.; Orlando, Fla.; San Antonio; and Oakland, Calif. It would be a step in the right direction. But that step is fraught with potholes.

There is speculation that the Sacramento Gold Miners will move to Oakland. And before Mileti was canned, he investigated the possibility of a lease at Oakland Alameda County Coliseum.

But that's the home of baseball's Oakland Athletics. Does anyone really think the A's would allow a CFL team on their field starting in June?

St. Louis and Memphis have football histories, but there are complications. St. Louis is trying to lure an NFL team; and the movers and shakers in Memphis are so put off by the CFL's $6 million entry fee that they're trying to start a new league.

Speros said league officials were in San Antonio on Friday sizing up new prospective ownership. At least it's football country.

He also said there is a group in New York that wants to put a CFL team on Long Island (and play at Hofstra, perhaps). Would anyone there care, unless it fields a knockout team?

Based on the league's failures, one has to wonder if the CFL has the ability to pull off the coup of American expansion with all its complexities -- and not self-destruct.

Paying the piper

No sooner had Glenn Golenberg taken over the Posse last week than jobs started disappearing. Golenberg is the newly appointed chairman of the board of directors, and CEO of Las Vegas Major League Sports, Inc., which owns the Posse.

On the same day he replaced Mileti, the Posse fired six employees, bringing to nine the total of front-office firings over the past two weeks.

In a series of cost-cutting measures, the practice roster was cut from 11 to one, charter flights were replaced with commercial flights, and club officials requested the league not print any more game programs for the team this season.

But the coup de grace to the whole mess came when the team returned from a Week 8 game in Edmonton, only to discover that the airport bus driver wouldn't budge until the Posse paid its outstanding bill.

Bad blood, too

Brad LaCombe was at it again in the Posse's Week 7 loss to the British Columbia Lions. The man who drove Baltimore quarterback John Congemi into a retaining wall on a late, late hit earlier this season nailed B.C.'s Lui Passaglia well after he got off a punt two weeks ago.

Passaglia suffered ligament damage in his knee and should miss at least two games. Coinciding with that, a feud between B.C. coach Dave Ritchie and Vegas special teams coach Jeff Reinebold got ugly. Reinebold had been heard cursing the B.C. staff during the game.

On his radio show the next Monday, Ritchie said Reinebold, who coached for the Lions the previous three years, was "lower than a dog catcher."

It was at first thought Ritchie's reference was to a sportswriter, but the coach acknowledged the next day he was speaking of Reinebold.

E9 In a footnote to the saga, LaCombe was cut last week.

Hanging tough

Winnipeg quarterback Matt Dunigan, out six weeks with a knee sprain, says the injury was his 50th since he started playing in junior high. The first was a broken sternum. He has suffered 11 concussions, had three surgeries on each knee and sprained each ankle four times. (He kept track of this?)

"I can remember in high school feeling the pain and thinking, 'This can't be good for you,' " Dunigan said. "You get beat up, and at that point you accepted it as part of the game, or didn't like the feeling and moved into something else."

Audibles

Still threatening to take his team to the United States, Calgary Stampeders owner Larry Ryckman has imposed a Sept. 15 deadline for city officials to rework his McMahon Stadium lease. . . . Going into Week 9, Eastern Division teams were 4-16 against the West -- and that included two wins against the Posse. . . . After the Hamilton Tiger-Cats lost to Baltimore on Aug. 10, they fired coach John Gregory. After they lost to the CFLs last week, they demoted quarterback Timm Rosenbach. Todd Dillon will start tomorrow's game against Toronto. . . . The announcement introducing Ottawa businessman Larry O'Brien -- and his $300,000 -- as new minority partner of the Roughriders has been delayed three times. Maybe that's why commissioner Larry Smith visited Ottawa twice in 13 days.

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