Battles lie ahead

Incoming CFL commissioner Mark Cohon will have his hands full dealing with the league's governors....

Incoming CFL commissioner Mark Cohon will have his hands full dealing with the league's governors. (Sun Media/Michael Peake)

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:09 AM ET

He doesn't have any visible bruises, hasn't developed a nervous tick and doesn't appear to be looking over his shoulder, worried about getting a knife in the back.

In fact, Mark Cohon, the CFL's brand-spanking-new commissioner, says things are smooth as a Milt Stegall stride in his seat at the helm of the three-down game.

Shocking, when you consider the previous commish, Tom Wright, proved you can do most things right and still peeve off enough owners to get turfed.

Not so shocking when you hear the first few words out Cohon's mouth.

"This is my fifth day on the job," the man said yesterday, on his first official visit to Manitoba.

Give it time, sir. Give it time.

Actually, time is something Cohon has been given, in the form of a five-year contract, unanimously approved, they tell us, by a board of governors that has trouble agreeing on the time of day.

The former executive with Major League Baseball and the NBA, who more recently ran his own software company, yesterday talked about some of his priorities during the coming term.

And publicly, at least, Cohon seems to know where the end zone is.

His job as the boss: "chief sales guy" and "the guardian of the league."

The sales part is where he won't get any argument from the eight governors. The more revenue, the better.

It's in the guardianship, however, where Cohon could find himself tiptoeing through the same minefield that sent Wright flying out the door.

Cohon says he wants to get right to work on establishing a drug policy, and I can already hear a couple of the league's old-school owners saying, "Why would I want to spend money on a thing like that?"

And if he performs a minor miracle and gets them to agree, he'll no doubt face some opposition from the players association.

'THE RIGHT MESSAGE'

"From my perspective, not just as a commissioner but as a father, it's really important," Cohon said. "Most of the professional sports in North America have policies. It's important, if we want to engage young Canadians, that we do that. That's the right message."

A less sexy issue, albeit critical to the league's financial health, is the implementation of the new salary management system, due to be fully enforced this season.

We'd already been told the new commish would have some input into the amount of transparency in the new system.

Things should get interesting when Cohon tells, say, B.C. Lions owner David Braley, to make public the amount he pays his players.

"That's one of the things I'm going to get into with the governors," Cohon said. "At some point it's important that we're transparent as a league."

That point ought to begin immediately.

How will anybody who cares about competitive balance take these guys seriously if they don't reveal the results -- those who overspend the cap, by how much they overspent it by and how much they were penalized -- of a system that supposedly has teeth?

A simple, "Trust us, it's working," isn't good enough.

The new system was supposed to be in effect, without the penalties, last season.

But word is some teams haven't exactly been cooperative when it comes to opening their books to the auditors this past winter.

Doesn't sound like we're off to a very good start.

We know the Saskatchewan Roughriders spent $1.1 million more than the cap last year only because the 'Riders are community-owned and don't mind releasing such information to the public.

What did everybody else spend? Seems like the league doesn't even know, yet.

Good luck getting to the bottom of it, Mr. Commish.

If history is any indication, your toughest sales job is probably right in your own boardroom.


Videos

Photos