CFL faces grim decisions after successful Grey Cup

ON THE CFL

November 24, 1995|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Although all the numbers have yet to be tabulated -- how many people invaded Regina, how much money did they spend? -- Grey Cup Week was a success for the Canadian Football League.

The CFL demanded $3.2 million of the profits, and that obligation has been met. The host team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, was looking at a deficit of $2.1 million before the Grey Cup. That has been cut in half.

But the euphoria of Grey Cup Week will be a distant memory when the CFL's Board of Governors assembles in Toronto for three days of meetings, beginning Wednesday.

The board has much to discuss:

* The future of U.S. expansion. With the Grey Cup champion Baltimore Stallions, the anchor expansion franchise, faced with the likely prospect of moving, the experiment is in jeopardy.

Five American-based teams lost nearly $20 million combined this season.

The Birmingham Barracudas could fold or be sold. The FTC Shreveport Pirates hope to become the Norfolk (Va.) Pirates in 1996, and the team now has its equipment stored in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., while it awaits league approval. The Memphis Mad Dogs may relinquish their Liberty Bowl lease, if the NFL makes them the right offer. The Houston Oilers are headed to Nashville in 1998, but want to leave Houston after this season. The Liberty Bowl is the only facility in Tennessee that can accommodate the Oilers until a new stadium is built.

* Rules changes. Don't expect anything major to happen here, nor should it. For all of Memphis coach Pepper Rodgers' whining ("I'd rather have four downs; three downs leads to too much of a kicking contest"), the basic format of the game -- three downs, unlimited motion in the backfield, a 20-second play clock -- is what makes it unique.

Not that the league should not consider some changes. Because so many expansion teams have had trouble accommodating the CFL's 110-yard fields (plus two 20-yard end zones), the league might allow American teams to play on 100-yard fields.

Some other cosmetic changes should be addressed. Why are missed field goals that sail out of the end zone good for a single? That rewards failure. Why must injured players who leave the field sit out for three plays? Isn't one play enough?

* The import ratio. Canadian rosters must contain at least 20 Canadians and no more than 17 Americans. American teams enjoy the freedom to sign whomever they want. It's easily the most divisive issue in the CFL, and it creates an unfair level of depth on U.S. teams. American teams enjoyed a 34-20 record against the Canadians this year.

If the league is serious about U.S. expansion, it needs to address this inequity in two ways. Reduce the ratio from 20 Canadians to 10, and adopt the "naturalization rule," by which imports who have played in Canada for five full seasons become non-imports.

* Avoid another scheduling debacle. Settle the league makeup early in 1996, so that schedules are not released in April, making it difficult for teams to market their product and sell season tickets.

Do not make teams play more than once a week. Forcing teams to play three games in eight days, which everyone did this year, is a joke.

* If the CFL intends to stick with U.S. expansion, acknowledge it by changing the name of the league to the North American Football League.

Garcia unhappy

Jeff Garcia, Calgary's backup quarterback, who won eight of nine games he started while Doug Flutie recovered from September elbow surgery, was upset that he never took a snap during the Stampeders' 37-20 Grey Cup loss to Baltimore.

"I'm hurt that I didn't get a chance," Garcia told the Calgary Herald on Monday. "I'm the forgotten man on this team. I was not forgotten by my teammates. I was forgotten by the people who make decisions. All I could do is watch from the sidelines and bite my lip."

Flutie, a four-time CFL MVP, completed 23 of 49 passes for 287 yards with one touchdown and one interception Sunday. He also scored once.

"Doug made some nice throws, but he never got into a rhythm, partly because of the outstanding Baltimore defense," said Garcia.

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