The new financial guidelines may prove to be a win-win scenario for both CFL owners and the commissioner.
Tom Wright is a man who likes to smile. Today he must be beaming!
When the embattled CFL commissioner arrived in picturesque Scottsdale, Arizona earlier this week he was facing the potential of a second attempted coup in less than nine months. His well-documented critics, BC's David Braley and Montreal's Bob Wetenhall, two of the league's most powerful owners were both livid about his recent decision to relieve highly-respected Ed Chalupka from his duties as senior vice-president of football operations -- adding additional fuel to their strong desires to see the end of Wright's tumultuous tenure. Other owners/governors, who had been supportive of Wright in the past, even acknowledged privately to Sportsnet that they, too, were not pleased with the Chalupka situation and the manner in which it was handled.
Known as "The Valley of the Sun", storm clouds were gathering as the CFL Board of Govenors arrived in Arizona.
But, as we all know now, the end result of those meetings was anything but fatal for the likeable commish. In fact, when he and and Calgary minority owner Ted Hellard addressed the national media on Wednesday, it was to introduce landmark legislation. A complex, multi-faceted salary management system which has the potential to address what has been a long-time public relations debacle for the CFL, something which may very well serve as Wright's legacy if he relinquishes his role on or before the end of his current contract, which expires December 31, 2006. And, should Wright stay, act as a potential springboard for future successes.
Few if any longtime CFL observers saw this as a plausible outcome. After all, the strong personalities and divergent opinions on how best to operate the league, has made the CFL Board of Govenors a forum on "non-consensus" for years and years. To reach an agreement (the vote was 7-2 in favour of) on something so complex and emotional is, well, astounding.
Much of the credit goes to Argos president Keith Pelley, who was aggressive in lobbying behind the scenes over the past couple of weeks, and to Hellard, who according to insiders, made a masterful presentation on behalf of the salary management system committee he chaired. The new $3.8 million mandate, speaks volumes as to how many discrepancies there were in the past to the supposed $2.6 million system. Some called it a "ceiling" while others called it a "floor", but the bottom line is the CFL average in 2005 was closer to $3.7 million per team. According to insiders, the Grey Cup champion Eskimos even exceeded the $4 million mark.
Small market teams howled they couldn't compete under the system. In places such as Saskatchewan and Winnipeg, two of the CFL's most ardent fan bases, the reality of fans "losing hope" and eventually passion resonated throughout the Arizona boardroom.
The end result was landmark legislation, that while difficult to implement, is a going to be a public relations bonanza and has the potential to create a "cost certainty" the CFL has not seen in years and years.
While many will view this Wright victory as a loss for Braley and Wetenhall, I tend to view it in a different light. n impressive accomplishment for Wright, yes, but for the other two gentlemen, who have saved football in their respective communities, may finally get the credit they deserve for doing so much for their respective franchises as well as the collective good of the Canadian Football League. If the Lions and Als continue to be successful on what is viewed as a more "level playing field", which I expect they will, the fans across the country will finally realize that good ownership goes far beyond deep pockets. After all, folks, remember there is a reason Don Matthews and Wally Buono are the two winningest coaches in league history. By hiring the aforementioned and others such as Bob Ackles, Larry Smith, Jim Popp, etc., they have done far more than just spend money ... they have spent it wisely!
In the end, as in all good stories, perhaps the final result will be a win-win scenario ... for the commissioner and his critics.