A story about nothing

New CFL commissioner Mark Cohon arrived in Edmonton yesterday to shed some light on the big story...

New CFL commissioner Mark Cohon arrived in Edmonton yesterday to shed some light on the big story of the day ... nothing. (Sun File/Michael Peake)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

It's hard to look cool when your house is on fire.

For the better part of two turbulent decades, the Canadian Football League wrestled with that very predicament.

No matter how hard they tried to further their league, broaden their fan base or, in some cases, just make ends meet, it was always against the embarrassing backdrop of a commissioner trying to stomp out another four-alarm crisis.

Somebody was always on the verge of folding. Somebody was always going broke. Somebody was always playing to a half-empty stadium. Somebody's owner was always doing something ridiculous. Somebody drafted a dead guy.

And sometimes - like in Ottawa - all of the above.

NO NEWS, GOOD NEWS

So it was with great pride that new CFL commissioner Mark Cohon arrived in Edmonton yesterday to shed some light on the big story of the day ... nothing.

That might not seem like a big deal, but given all that's gone wrong in the league, no news is good news.

"The thing I'm most excited about is that the league is in great shape," said Cohon, during a stopover in Edmonton yesterday.

"One of the things I did when I travelled across the country is meet with all the governors and understand what all the issues were in the league. And I realized there really weren't any major issues.

"There are no major fires. Now is a time to build and that's what I'm going to be focusing on. It's an opportunity to engage young fans, an opportunity to go back and engage corporate Canada and reconnect with the younger generation."

Looking ahead instead of looking for a hose to put out the flames? It's a refreshing change for a league that needs and deserves one.

Instead of crisis management, the new commissioner can spend his time coming up with new and innovative ways to grow the league.

"What are the aspirational and fun things we can do, because we're in a position now, with the long-term television contract, that we can start to do different things," said Cohon, who's held executive positions with the NBA and Major League Baseball.

"Hopefully, over the next six to 12 months, we'll have some announcements on new ideas."

Indeed, because there's no such thing as standing still in sports or business - you're either moving ahead or falling behind.

So while all is well now -the CFL enjoys a stronghold among males 30 and over - it isn't reaching the younger demographic like it needs to.

Cohon, who's young enough to understand and connect with the Internet generation, sees them as the CFL's greatest untapped resource, and a key to the league's long-term stability.

"One of the things we did was put the draft online and it was a great success for us. We had 11,000 people viewing it and 35,000 on our website that day.

"When I ran the office for the NBA in Europe we had a three-on-three tournament that we toured around Europe. We were talking in the office recently about bringing back Punt, Pass and Kick - get kids involved with participation. On a league basis I think we can get roll out programs with sponsors to get kids playing again.

"That's what I'm going to figure out how to do.

AMBASSADORS

"We also need to start profiling our players and build some creativity there. We've gone around to all the teams and we're working on creating CFL ambassadors - guys who we want to promote, get them in the community on a league-wide basis. Promote them in our television broadcast, promote them with Reebok, so kids can relate to them."

He has a passion for the game and the league, and a five-year contract, and he plans to make the most of them.

A puppet commissioner he isn't.

"I think I have a mandate now that I can make tough decisions without having to look over my shoulder.

"You want to go into a job where you think you can make a difference and I think over the course of the next five years I can make a difference."


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