Welcome to ownership armageddon

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:18 AM ET

As both friends and general managers, Brian Burke and Ned Colletti compare notes often about how they do their jobs, how they will do them in the future.

Lately, they haven't been talking a lot--considering the circumstances each of them finds himself in.

Colletti's Los Angeles Dodgers, an internal mess of debt, divorce and spending excess away from the on-field operation, have been taken over by Major League Baseball.

By any standard of professional sport, this is a shocking development for one of the staple fran-franchises of baseball.

Colletti's team will have an owner sometime soon--they are, after all, the Dodgers--but the state of the team represents an ownership uncertainty that appears rampant, troublesome and surprisingly widespread at the richest and highest levels of professional sport.

It is different here in Toronto for Burke, where the majority interest in the Maple Leafs and the Raptors are for sale and an apparent deadline is coming soon. The mostly faceless Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan has operated this business without truly acting the part of owner. Until recently, when the Teachers' have properly asked questions about the assumed contract extension of Bryan Colangelo, have they ever made any kind of public noise, willingly or not?

But what Burke doesn't know, and can't possibly know, is who the next owners will be, what they will be like, how they will change or try to change the way in which he conducts his business.

For now, Ned Colletti, as of Wednesday, answers to Bud Selig, commissioner of baseball.

For now, Burke answers to Richard Peddie, who is leaving his position as CEO. And Peddie answers to the Teachers, who are trying to sell their shares. Which means none of us, or none of them, really know the direction ownership is taking in the immediate or long-term future of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

It isn't just like this in Toronto and Los Angeles. It is almost everywhere in sport today -- with ownership crises and questions at an all-time high. In fact, there has never been a period of such predicament for sports and its apparently wealthy owners.

Time was, it was the Canadian Football League that operated from crisis to crisis. But it is seemingly without crisis now while the NHL faces days, really, to figure out what to do with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Here's the rub with ownership right now in pro sports:

The NBA has taken over the New Orleans franchise.

The NHL operates the Coyotes in Phoenix.

Baseball is running the Los Angeles Dodgers.

And David Braley owns whatever he wants, whenever he wants it, in the CFL, which makes commissioner Mark Cohon's life rather peaceful.

In the NBA, the problems aren't just in New Orleans. The Raptors, having dropped in attendance for four consecutive years, are for sale.

The Maloof brothers, owners of the Sacramento Kings, are in terrible debt and would like to move their team to Anaheim. But the Sacramento folks, led by Mayor Kevin Johnson, the former NBA point guard, are fighting back.

So commissioner David Stern has two real problems. Where to put New Orleans-- and who to own the former Charlotte Hornets? And what to do about Sacramento-Anaheim? All this with a backdrop of a lockout coming and quite likely a labour disruption along with it.

Usually, in baseball, if and when a franchise is taken over, it's a Montreal Expos-type situation, a team on its last legs, last breath. But the Dodgers? They're not that. They're the Dodgers. And the New York Mets are in serious financial peril, having been financially obliterated by the Bernie Madoff scandal. Under business as usual situations, the Mets and the Dodgers should be franchises you never worry about.

But in Los Angeles, the ownership abuse of financial power was extreme and Selig should be congratulated for taking the hard step he has here.

In Gary Bettman's NHL, the commissioner doesn't lose sleep about who is or isn't buying the Leafs when he has to worry about the Coyotes, the Atlanta Thrashers, the Dallas Stars, the Florida Panthers, the St. Louis Blues and head shots.

In a backdrop of professional sporting success, never have so many teams been in play, so many situations embroiled, so many messes out there for commissioners to solve.


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