February 11, 2018

Randy’s Road Trip reaches Regina

For years, the Saskatchewan Roughriders have been viewed as one of the CFL’s most successfully run organizations.

League commissioner Randy Ambrosie would love to see other teams enjoy the same level of success — and to do so with the Roughriders’ assistance.

Before meeting with Saskatchewan fans Saturday at Mosaic Stadium, Ambrosie was asked if the rest of the league can learn from the Roughriders’ example.

“That has been the entirety of our conversation,” he replied. “When we finished Grey Cup, I asked everyone to eliminate the idea of an off-season. We’re going to have a business season and a football season. In the business season, the whole conversation is literally revolved around sharing best practices, working together, learning from one another, figuring out why a team is having success here and how we can replicate it.

“It has literally been the thing that has been perhaps not as strong as it could have been in the league over these past decades. I really believe that we need a more collaborative CFL, where the league office and the nine teams work together as partners and that we all share the responsibility for growing the game.”

The event Saturday was the sixth stop on Randy’s Road Trip, a tour featuring visits with fans across the country. Ambrosie has visited Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and Regina and will stop in Winnipeg (on Monday), Edmonton (Tuesday), Hamilton (Feb. 22) and Halifax (Feb. 23).

As he did in his previous stops, the commissioner offered his thoughts on a variety of topics and then answered questions posed by fans on hand. Ambrosie’s goal is to keep the CFL front of mind.

“We’ve been asking a lot of questions and we’ve got some fantastic responses,” he said. “There has been some inconsistency. Not every fan base or not every fan sees things the same way. The most important thing that comes out of this is we continue to work hard at creating an engagement with our fan base.

“It’s nothing less than what our fans should want from us and expect from us — coming out and talking to one another, sharing with them an update on what we’re working on and making sure we keep the CFL in the news 12 months of the year.”

Here a look at some of the things Ambrosie discussed during Saturday’s forum:

Moving up the start of the regular season: The league is looking to advance the schedule with the goal of avoiding playing Grey Cup games in the dead of winter.

When Ambrosie polled the crowd inside Harvard’s Studio 620 lounge, roughly 95 per cent raised their hands to suggest they’d like to start the season earlier.

“It’s different in different communities,” Ambrosie said. “Out east, there was much more of a split, almost 50-50. Calgary was 95 per cent in favour of it. (It was) 60-40 in favour of it with the fans we met in B.C.

“I keep reminding everyone: We should keep talking to the fans and talking to our stakeholders and partners about it and lead ourselves to a conclusion based on a lot of robust discussion.”

One thing Ambrosie heard earlier in his tour were concerns about the start time of the Grey Cup game. He noted that many people in the east told him it would be “more family friendly” if the game was played earlier in the day.

Upcoming Grey Cup games: Bids for the 2019 CFL final are to be presented to the board of governors at a meeting at the end of February. After that, interested teams and cities can start formulating bids for the 2020 game.

“We want to give the successful bidding cities more time,” Ambrosie said. “We’re expecting to make our Grey Cups bigger and stronger as we go along and the more time you give a team and a city to plan for a Grey Cup, the better we think the Grey Cup festivals can be.

“We’re going to launch the process for 2020 and we’re expecting a lot of very strong bids to come in for that game.”

Officiating: Ambrosie admitted that the work of the league’s officials has come up at every stop of the tour — and that wasn’t any different Saturday.

He reported he has asked the league’s rules committee to revisit the idea of coaches’ challenges, noting that the original notion of using them was solely to avoid officiating errors.

“We got so far away from that, it was amazing,” Ambrosie said.

Expansion to Halifax: The group interested in putting a team in Nova Scotia is continuing its work toward that goal — and Ambrosie is eager to see it come to fruition.

The fact that he’s stopping in Halifax during his tour is proof of that. He noted that he included the city because he wants those in Atlantic Canada to feel like “they’re part of the family.”

“Like the building of our national railway, it wasn’t done until it was done,” he said. “There was a last stretch of track that had to be laid down and a last spike that had to be pounded in the ground to be able to boast a national railway. I think it’s the same for the CFL.

“How can we feel completed until our friends in the Maritimes are part of our great league? The Maritimes are literally our unfinished piece of track and we can’t be a complete CFL until Maritimers have a team of their own to cheer for.”

Canadian quarterbacks: Ambrosie was asked if/when a team’s use of a Canadian quarterback — such as the Roughriders’ Brandon Bridge — will be reflected in the ratio.

“That will be part of the conversation we have amongst ourselves as a league,” replied Ambrosie, who met with Bridge this off-season to discuss the idea.

The commissioner noted that the topic will have to be part of the negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. But he added he was going to encourage the teams to change the current rule.

Player contracts: The CFL and its players’ association have both weighed in on players trying to get out of their contracts in hopes of going to the NFL.

After two Toronto Argonauts complained that the team wouldn’t let them out of their contracts to try out for NFL teams, Ambrosie issued a statement saying that all players have to honour their contracts. He added that teams can’t make side deals to allow players operating under the terms of their first contracts to get out of their deals early.

On Thursday, the CFLPA released a statement saying it was investigating the matter. That’s fine by Ambrosie, who noted he respects the union’s mandate.

“If they’re going to launch an investigation, good; do it and then that investigation will take us somewhere,” Ambrosie said. “I’m going to basically stand on the sidelines, be respectful of the process that everyone uses and try to be a positive contributor to whatever outcome could occur from any investigation.

“I sent a memo out to the teams: ‘We have a rule in place. I expect it to be followed.’ I expect all of our rules to be followed consistently across all of the teams. But if we’ve got the wrong rule, if there’s a strong feeling that we’re not doing it right or if something should be changed, then let’s sit at a table and have that conversation.”

Collaboration: As part of his goal of having the league and its teams work together, Ambrosie pointed to some areas of co-operation.

The league office is going to wade in and help teams sell tickets should assistance be required.

As well, the CFL is looking to create national programming on game days. That is expected to include more Diversity Is Strength events as well as a National Kids Day, on which children will be the focus of the league’s attention.