Apathy, legal woes dent league's image


The Canadian Football League postponed this week's Board of Governors meetings until Oct. 16, a decision commissioner Larry Smith said was made to allow owners to concentrate on football instead of business.

"We're going into the biggest part of our season, and this is not a time to address policy issues," Smith said.

Had they met yesterday, the owners would have been hard-pressed to devote enough attention to policy, what with all of the unpleasant events that have hurt the CFL this month.

First, there were the attendance alarms sounded in U.S. expansion cities Birmingham and Memphis. They drew the two smallest crowds of the season in successive weeks, with Memphis checking in at the bottom with 4,371. Birmingham owner Art Williams later announced that he expected the Barracudas to lose $6 million in their inaugural season.

Then, the Shreveport Pirates said they might relocate next year, after two years in Louisiana. Stung by the league's lowest average attendance (13,643), Pirates owner Bernie Glieberman initiated a season-ticket drive last week.

All Glieberman wants Shreveport fans to do is increase the ticket base to 15,000 by Oct. 20, nearly tripling the base of 5,800. Several Canadian teams tried the same tactic successfully last winter -- one of the reasons attendance is up in Ottawa, Hamilton and Saskatchewan.

Speaking of Ottawa, the league's image took another hit in one of its most troubled cities last week when Rough Riders CEO Al Howell was indicted on one count of criminal fraud and 20 counts involving forged documents.

The Ottawa Sun reported that Howell, who resigned his position as Rough Riders governor on Tuesday, will appear for his preliminary hearing Oct. 17. The charges are unrelated to the operation of the football team.

Horn Chen, the team's third owner in the past four seasons, expects to lose between $2 million and $3 million. He is rumored to be interested in moving the Rough Riders south of the border, presumably to Milwaukee, Miami or Orlando, Fla. On the field, Ottawa resides in the basement of the Northern Division with a league-worst 2-11 record, and in Jim Gilstrap has its fourth head coach in the past five seasons.

Not Dogging it

Give the Memphis Mad Dogs credit. They haven't let sagging attendance deter them on the field. Sunday's 28-19 victory over Birmingham, played before 7,830 at the Liberty Bowl, put the Mad Dogs back in the playoff picture.

Memphis (7-7) had to win that game. Because they play Birmingham (7-6) only once -- another quirk in a CFL schedule that has its share of holes -- the Mad Dogs would win in a head-to-head tiebreaker should the teams finish with the same record.

Memphis has the softer schedule, with games against Ottawa and Toronto and two against Edmonton. Three wins should give the Mad Dogs the last Southern Division playoff spot, because Birmingham still has to play Edmonton, Shreveport (twice) and second-place San Antonio (twice), which has an otherwise easy October and is getting stronger.

The Mad Dogs beat the Barracudas by playing the kind of defense that has carried them all year. They intercepted Birmingham quarterback Matt Dunigan three times and knocked down 11 passes, highlighting Dunigan's first bad game in two months.

In the game's last three minutes, Memphis produced two defensive stands and two field goals by Nick Mystrom to seal the victory. Defensive back Don Smith, who also knocked down four passes, intercepted Dunigan to set up Mystrom's first field goal.

Remember the Mad Dogs' kicking woes? Memphis tried four kickers in the season's first month, including former Baltimore standout Donald Igwebuike. Finally, the team settled on Mystrom, who also can play quarterback, wide receiver and defensive back. Mystrom has made a respectable 22 of 30 field-goal attempts, including five of nine from beyond 40 yards, and hit all 14 of his extra-point tries.

Other Memphis trivia: Receiver Joe Horn (60 catches, 1,206 yards) needs 20 catches and 325 yards in his last four games to set a CFL rookie record in both categories. Former Baltimore receiver Walter Wilson has six receptions for 97 yards and a score in four games.

Playoff format

Just a reminder about the CFL playoff format. The top three American teams and top five Canadian teams will qualify, with the fifth-place Canadian team gaining the fourth seed in the South. Repeat that a few times, and maybe it will begin to make sense.

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