OTTAWA - As the tiny, whiny factions try to overturn the decision of city council and thus spike the wishes of the silent majority, you might wonder if the CFL is getting impatient with the movement to put a franchise back in Ottawa.
The answer is a strong no.
It’s been three years since league commissioner Mark Cohon awarded the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment group a conditional franchise that depended on OSEG’s ability to secure a deal with the city on a new stadium and lease — and 13 months since the consortium of Roger Greenberg, John Ruddy, Bill Shenkman and Jeff Hunt was given the green light to proceed by the elected officials — and yet the earliest pro football will be played again on Bank St. is 2014.
That date will get pushed back to 3014 if a judge suffers a complete loss of senses and decides in favour of the so-called “Friends of Lansdowne” and their challenge of council’s ruling later this month. Surely that’s not going to happen.
Yet, could Cohon have imagined six seasons would pass from the day he handed the ball to OSEG until the first game in Ottawa? Is the league not beside itself with frustration in all the dilly-dallying being done in the nation’s capital before the shovel hits the ground for construction on the new stadium?
“Not at all,” Cohon told the Ottawa Sun. “My mantra has been, every step of the way, that we need to do this the right way, with the right owners, plan and venue. If the process to deliver that venue takes a little longer, we just need to accept that. We know how important it is that we succeed in Ottawa, for our league and for the community, and if that requires some patience, alongside persistence, that’s just the way it is.”
Cohon reiterated that having a team in Ottawa — with all the proper pieces in their proper place — means a great deal to the CFL.
“It shows our league is strong enough to grow,” he said. “It includes the national capital in Canada’s league. And it allows us to tap into and celebrate the great tradition of football in Ottawa. We’re really looking forward to it.”
For the league to be as big as it can and should be, the growth will head east. One day, there will also be a team or two in the Maritimes and another in Quebec City. A franchise in the London-Windsor area should work, too.
“Expansion to Atlantic Canada has long been a dream for our fans across the country, and we are currently assessing whether it can become a reality,” said Cohon. “Our first regular-season game in the region, Scotiabank Touchdown Atlantic in Moncton last fall, was a huge success. And we’re looking forward to returning there this fall. But as has been the case for Ottawa, it’s my responsibility, on behalf of our league governors, to ensure expansion is evaluated in a very prudent, diligent way. We’re doing that.”
There’s no team in the Maritimes now, it stands to figure, because there is no businessman or group like OSEG that has both the determination and wherewithal to get the job done. Cohon remains extremely confident that Greenberg, Ruddy, Shenkman and Hunt, along with the addition of partner John Pugh, will give Ottawa the ownership group it has long lacked.
“First and foremost, its commitment to community,” Cohon said when asked what he likes most about the consortium. “These gentlemen care deeply about Ottawa and its people. They have deep, deep roots in the city, and a track record of service as well as success. They are passionate as well about our game and our league and their place in Canadian culture and Ottawa’s history, but they are community builders, I believe, most of all.”
To the anxious football fans in the nation’s capital, Cohon would pass along a message.
“First of all, I’d say thank you for your support, your passion and your patience,” he said. “As much as we all look forward to kick off on the canal, we all want it to be the first of many great moments in a modern venue worthy of our Ottawa fans and all the people of Ottawa. And we’re going to get there. I mean, look how far we’ve come, thanks to those fans, and our prospective owners in Ottawa, who, of course, are fans, too.”
The wait seems long, but at least it’s not until 3014.