Moncton CFL's best bet for a 10th team

Brad Lester jumps into the end zone during an Edmonton Eskimos pratice at Rocky Stone Field in...

Brad Lester jumps into the end zone during an Edmonton Eskimos pratice at Rocky Stone Field in Moncton on September 24, 2010. (QMI AGENCY)

MATT FLOWERS, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 12:20 PM ET

TORONTO -- The CFL will touch down in Moncton, New Brunswick this weekend as the Toronto Argonauts and Edmonton Eskimos square off as part of the first regular season match on Atlantic soil.

And it's about time, too.

Long has the CFL teased about the possibility of bringing a franchise to the East Coast, but nothing has ever come out of it. And it's been much to the chagrin of Maritimers, who have been itching for a team to call their own while having to witness the league fail miserably in the 1990's in its attempt to expand the game south of the border.

With that debacle now a distant memory, and the league in a healthy current state, expansion within Canada has become one of the hottest topics among both CFL fans and management alike.

Most recently, public support for expansion eastwards took off back in 2003, when the CFL set up a committee to look at the possibilities of growing the league to 10 teams, with Quebec City and Halifax being the prime candidates.

Exhibition games were played in both cities with some success, but not until this season was Moncton rewarded for its push towards acquiring a franchise. The city of fewer than 130,000 residents knocked a city three times its size, Halifax, off the top rung simply for showing the more commitment.

Even the fans have come on board as tickets for this weekend's game were sold out after just 32 hours, and Argonauts arriving in the town were greeted like royalty after coming off the plane.

One weekend of football will likely have that effect on a town not accustomed to professional sports, but the debate keeps coming back to the league's desire for having teams in the east, and the possibility is slowly becoming a reality.

In 2013, a ninth team will be added to the league when the on-again, off-again Ottawa franchise attempts another reboot.

Under the moniker "Rough Riders," (not to be confused with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, whose name derives from a completely different source), Ottawa had a 120-year old franchise that ultimately folded in 1996 due to a long period of poor ownership and an eroding fan base.

The city tried again in 2002 with the Renegades, but the new team was not embraced as sub-par play on the field kept fans - and their money - away as the franchise folded in 2005.

Now Ottawa's at it again, this time granted a team set to play in 2013 under Ottawa 67's owner Jeff Hunt.

Though skepticism for the Ottawa franchise is completely understandable given recent history, there is reason for optimism as the city, in an overwhelming majority, approved the construction of a new CFL stadium.

Ottawa's financial commitment to a new team can only add fuel to the fire to add at least one more for what would be the ideal league: five teams in both divisions, with Winnipeg out west where it truly belongs.

Is Moncton a viable location for the 10th franchise? At first glance it appears it wouldn't be given its small size, especially as a true metropolitan in Halifax appears to be a better choice on paper.

But that's really the only thing going for the Nova Scotia capital. A major reason why Moncton has been picking up steam as the leading candidate over Halifax is its recent coup of the Uteck Bowl, which is one of two semi-final matches before the Vanier Cup amongst Canadian universities.

Halifax has hosted this bowl - and its predecessor, the Atlantic Bowl - for nearly 50 years, but Moncton swooped in to take the historic event on the strength of its new stadium that can expand to seat over 20,000.

Whether or not this weekend's game is the first of many to be played in New Brunswick, or just a one-off to further tease East Coast CFL fans, there is no doubting that the distinction of being the football town of the Maritimes belongs completely to Moncton.


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