VANCOUVER — Since Mark Cohon was appointed commissioner of the Canadian Football League four years ago, mostly good things have been happening.
Television ratings are better than they have been, attendance in most markets is strong, the league expects to expand into Ottawa in 2013 and the CFL is leaving a positive footprint in Atlantic Canada, one that could result in a 10th CFL club.
It was not too surprising, then, that Cohon’s name surfaced as a possible replacement a couple of months ago for Richard Peddie, who will retire as president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. at the end of 2011.
But for Cohon, there’s plenty to be done before he seriously thinks about the likelihood of moving on.
“The fact of the matter is, there is a lot of work ahead in this job,” Cohon said on Thursday. “I have loved it, had a really fun time with it, and this is my final year of my term. We have a 100th Grey Cup coming up (in Toronto in November of 2012), potential for a new TV deal, a lot of work getting back into Ottawa, and thinking about a 10th franchise.
“The league is in good shape now, but it is not about me. There are still things that can be done to take the league to another level, and I would like to be part of that. We’ll see what happens.”
Fans of the CFL always have been passionate about the league they support, and there was a reminder last week that was not subtle. Cohon received e-mails and tweets regarding the 2011 schedule, specifically the Labour Day Classic in Ontario that won’t include the Toronto Argonauts and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Monday afternoon game. The Ticats will play host to the Montreal Alouettes, while the Argos will entertain the B.C. Lions that Friday night.
It will be the first time since 1995 that the Argos and Ticats don’t meet on Labour Day at Ivor Wynne Stadium, and Cohon has no interest in seeing the rivalry take a similar shot next season. Because of issues at the Rogers Centre, the Argos would have been on the road too often for the league’s liking had they been in Hamilton on the last day of the summer holidays.
“Clearly, people care,” Cohon said. “And as you look at our TV numbers increasing (for that game), and number of people attending, it’s important. The good side of this is that at the end of the season (on Nov. 3), we have Toronto and Hamilton playing, and that is going to be an important game for both teams.”
In the league’s bigger picture, Cohon expects that ground-breaking in Ottawa should happen some time late in the summer or in September, starting a time line that would ensure the Ottawa franchise starts play in 2013. And for now, that’s where expansion sits, though CFL Players’ Association president Stu Laird has said he would like to see 10 teams sooner rather than later.
Making a firm decision on expanding into Atlantic Canada — when the lone trial balloon was the first Touchdown Atlantic between the Argos and Edmonton Eskimos (to be followed by the second game in Moncton, between the Tiger-Cats and Calgary Stampeders in September) — too quickly could lead the league down a path that Cohon does not want to go. In four years as commissioner, Cohon has not been a guy who has made rash decisions.
“Getting back to Ottawa is mission critical,” Cohon said. “(Touchdown Atlantic) felt like Saskatchewan of the east, with the fact that 40% of people who came to the stadium drove over 80 kilometres, and it was an indication that you could really create a regional franchise there.
“But we have to be smart. There is no need for us to jump to make a decision, and we have to be methodical about it.”