The CFL Board of Governors is currently putting together a search committee to find a replacement for outgoing commissioner Mark Cohon. If you believe the word on the street, the number-one criterion for the new league leader will be a strong corporate presence in Toronto, a guy who knows his way around an office and who can broker the deal that finally gets the Argos into BMO Field.
Cohon may be able to put a bow on his tenure by solving the Argos’ problem before he leaves and, in doing so, would cement his legacy as perhaps the game’s best-ever commissioner. Regardless of whether or not he’s able to get it done, it is time that the league office hires a commissioner who is a football guy first.
Cohon took the league to a new level of success by initially controlling the message that was coming out of the head office in Toronto. He then was able to shift the focus to the field, where it should be, so that he could take care of some of the game’s biggest items on the agenda.
Under his leadership, we saw the return of football to the nation’s capital, acelebration of the 100th Grey Cup game that was second to none, a new game-changing television contract and the improvement, or redevelopment of almost all the stadiums in our country. Cohon’s legacy will be that he took care of the big things, and has build a foundation for the league that should carry it for decades to come.
Now it is time to take care of all the football-related small things that may have been overlooked while Ottawa was being added and stadiums were being built. You hear it all the time from coaches - if you take care of the little details, the fundamentals, the rest will take care of itself.
The following are starting points, some bigger than others, but all football-related and all important to the growth of the game, and thoughts as to some of the items that should move to the top of the agenda and why a football guy in the commissioner’s chair would help get them done.
Now is the time that the league explores and develops a pension for coaches. Regardless of nationality, a coach who has dedicated his life to our great game and invested between seven and 10 years in the CFL should be rewarded for that dedication and loyalty. The new commissioner needs to reward the guys who say goodbye to their families in May and don’t see them again until end of November with a small nest egg once they retire. Who better for commissioner than a former player or coach to understand the importance of rewarding our coaching lifers?
It is time to support our officials more by increasing the budget in this area. That is not to say that the league office is currently neglecting the refs, but it’s time to start investing on improving, rather than just talking about improving, officiating. The game’s officials are men of integrity who do a fantastic job with what is perhaps the toughest sport on the planet to officiate. It’s time they were paid accordingly. Head refs should not have to hold down another job in the offseason. They should be paid enough that they can be working on their game 12 months of the year. The new commissioner needs to sell to the board on just how important that investment is and how it will pay off.
It is time to rewrite the league’s media policy and put rules in place that every team will adhere to or will be fined. There is currently a media policy in the league; it just lacks consistency. A press conference before a game in Toronto looks very different than one in Calgary. Those conferences should be held at the stadium or a professional venue and should include the home and visiting teams back to back. Currently, the visiting team, at times, will do their media availability at a hotel lobby or do it at the stadium but hours after the home team is long gone. Depth charts need to be accurate and in the hands of the media two days before games. so that stories can be written about the stars of the game.
It is time to better legislate the practice policy whereby, teams get one closed practice per week. Then, during the open practices, cameras can roll for a lot longer than a few minutes while the guys stretch and any and all players are available to the media on those days. Injury updates need to become mandatory with consistent language. A commissioner with a football background can communicate with coaches and players why this new policy is so important. Also, he would not for a minute be persuaded into thinking that switching a couple of guys on a depth chart to mislead the media, intentionally or not, actually helps you win.
It is time to work on improving protocol with regards to player discipline. Kevin McDonald at the league office is currently in charge of that and does an excellent job, but this area can be improved upon, as well. We need to speed up the process and it is time for full disclosure, whereby all rulings are put on video and uploaded to the CFL website explaining the major decisions and why they were made. The new commissioner needs a football background to best facilitate improvement in this area. Also, the current rules committee process is very good, but it goes without saying that adding a commissioner with a football background would be beneficial.
Mark Cohon was able to negotiate a new CBA with the CFLPA, which is excellent, but now the question is, are the two sides currently working on the next deal? Why wait for a few months before the current
agreement expires? The time is right now to start working on the trust level and relationship between the league and its most important asset, the players. If the next commissioner is a football guy, finding that level of trust becomes that much easier.
The new commissioner needs to have watched enough football on television to be able to work together with TSN to continue to improve on the overall presentation of the game. We can all improve, and that includes TV, and a commissioner who has been involved with the game his whole life will be able to work with television to improve the product. A commissioner who, at one time, played the game or coached will have watched enough of the game on TV to be able to work with the network from a position of experience.
The time is now to start investing in a much bigger way in amateur football in our country and start to work towards improving the working relationship between amateur and high school football presidents and leaders and the CFL commissioner. It’s time to initiate flag or touch football into the physical education curriculum of every school in Canada. In PE, kids are asked to learn almost every sport available, as well as square dancing and yoga, so why not add touch or flag football to that agenda? A commissioner
with a football background would understand how to implement initiatives like that in a safe way.
There are still some big projects on the agenda when it comes to growing the Canadian Football League, like the Argos at BMO and expansion into the Maritimes. It would also be naive to think that developing a pension plan for coaches is a small project or that any new idea, no matter how small, wouldn’t come with a price tag. A corporate mogul in Toronto would be will prepared to work on those big projects and to balance budgets; however, BMO is close and, if common sense prevails, will happen. And expansion to
the Maritimes is possible, but at least five to 10 years away. The next commissioner needs a background in football. He needs to roll up his sleeves and spend the next five to 10 years improving the on-field product and everything surrounding it. He needs to have the respect of the coaches, GMs and players
because he was once in the same trench, trying to find a way to win a football game, just
like they are now. He needs to have watched enough football on TV and been involved in the game at the highest levels, to know the dynamic in a locker room, what is fair access and what isn’t, and what football fans like when they watch the game, both in the stadiums and on television. He needs to unite all the stakeholders in the game from minor flag football for ten year olds to our high schools and our outstanding college programs.
Corporate expertise can be hired when needed and, in fact, there is already a great corporate presence in the league office right now in Michael Copeland. He has tremendous experience in the boardroom, has worked with the governor and is well equipped to broker the BMO deal. An accountant is needed anyway to handle salary cap regulations and balancing budgets and should be hired. However, the next commissioner needs to be a football guy.