Wright still not certain

PERRY LEFKO -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:25 AM ET

HALIFAX -- The State of the Canadian Football League never has been better according to commissioner Tom Wright, but his own situation continues to be as confusing as ever.

As he addressed the media yesterday to provide an update of the league in advance of the pre-season game at Huskies Stadium tonight between the Argos and Hamilton Tiger-Cats -- a game which could be a harbinger of future expansion -- the third-year commissioner painted a positive picture of the empire he oversees, but dodged his status.

He talked about about how the nine clubs are "well managed, well financed and well positioned" and that, overall, the league is "extraordinarily healthy."

He revealed how corporate Canada has embraced the CFL with sponsorship support 50% higher than last year, significant television data, both in terms of the demographics and the reach, and greater licensing.

And, of course, he pointed to the game tonight, which could be the first step toward expansion by the end of the decade.

"We are ready for expansion, that's why this game is so important," Wright said. "Do we have challenges (as a league)? Absolutely. The salary system remains a core issue. I am committed to finding a solution before the 2006 season."

But will Tom Wright still be the commissioner in 2006? Inevitably, that had to be asked -- and he knew it -- though clearly he's not comfortable talking about the subject.

The CFL board of governors has reportedly offered him a one-year contract extension on his current three-year deal, which expires after this season, with no significant salary hike. It's hardly an endorsement.

There remains the possibility Wright may pass on the offer presented and inform the league of his notice to leave. If that happens, the league will go on without him, for better or worse. This is all hypothetical, of course, but in the absence of certainty, one can only speculate, and clearly his future is more concrete than talk of expansion.

"Between myself and the board of governors, we'll do what's right for the league and what's right for the game," he said. "I want to get it done as quickly as possible."

Who knows if Wright will be around if the league expands into a 10th market? He is trying to do all the things necessary to put a framework in place for the possibility of expansion, while also being practical and realistic. His predecessor, Mike Lysko, who lasted for only 1 1/2 years of a scheduled three-year term because the board didn't fancy his concept of what a commissioner should do, resurrected the Ottawa market during his tenure, which became as much a part of his legacy as his unceremonious end.

If there is ever a 10th franchise and Wright is around for it, that will be legacy. But his task is much more difficult. Ottawa had a lengthy history in the CFL and a suitable stadium. Halifax, or Atlantic Canada for that matter, has neither.

No one can definitively predict the future of either CFL expansion or Wright as commissioner, though clearly he has greater insight into his own future.

"I step back and I take a look at it objectively and where the league is, what has been accomplished, where the growth has happened and the support we're getting not only from our fans but from television ... and I say to myself, 'Have I played a role in that growth?' Absolutely, I believe I have," Wright said. "Am I enjoying what I'm doing? Most of the time I do. Am I challenged and feel good about the prospects? Absolutely. So if I had a disappointment it's that some of these things are handled in public and they shouldn't be. They belong in private with the private issues, so that's the disappointment I would have. Other than that, it's going to be a great game."


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