The CFL has put the troubled Ottawa Renegades franchise on ice. The league's board of governors decided Sunday during a meeting at a Toronto hotel to suspend the Renegades' operation for the 2006 season and work to find a new owner for the franchise in time for a potential re-launch in 2007.
"In the end, with the scarcity in time we were not able to find that owner or that ownership group but it wasn't for a lack of trying," CFL commissioner Tom Wright said. "We spoke to many really good individuals but it was their decision that there wasn't enough time to properly do this.
"The decision to suspend the Ottawa franchise was certainly a difficult one, but one we think was the right one. Right now our focus is to get ready for the 2006 season. I certainly believe an owner for Ottawa does exist, but we will only do it with the right owner."
There's some question, however, whether Wright will be around to see a new owner take over in Ottawa. Wright is in the final year of his contract and needs the support of at least seven of the nine governors to get a multi-year extension. Wright failed to sway enough board members on a multi-year deal last summer, receiving just a one-year extension instead.
With Ottawa gone for 2006, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will move into the East Division to give the CFL two four-team conferences.
The Bombers played previously in the East from 1987 to 1994 and 1997 to 2001, the last stint after the former Ottawa Rough Riders folded.
Players currently under contract to the Ottawa club - most notably quarterback Kerry Joseph and receiver Jason Armstead - will be made available to other CFL teams in a league dispersal draft, although no date has been set.
"A dispersal draft will be held in the coming days," Wright said, adding the league and CFL Players' Assoication are expected to talk Monday and begin finalizing details.
But Renegades head coach John Jenkins and his staff might not be so lucky. Their contracts aren't guartanteed and now they all face having to find new jobs, although there are reports majority owner Bernie Glieberman has pledged to take care of the Ottawa coaches even though he's not legally obligated to.
The Renegades must refund about $850,000 in season-ticket money to their fans.
The CFL revised its schedule, with Winnipeg replacing Ottawa as the pre-season opponents for the Montreal Alouettes. The Touchdown Atlantic exhibition game in Halifax between the Als and Renegades was cancelled outright, although Wright hopes the game can be resurrected in 2007.
The revised schedule will kick off June 16 and conclude Oct. 28, followed by the playoffs and Grey Cup game.
The CFL spent two weeks desperately searching for a new owner for the franchise after minority owner Bill Smith indicated he no longer wanted to put money into the club and Glieberman wasn't willing to be accountable for more than $2.5 million in losses. The Renegades reportedly lost about $4 million last year and was projected to lose between $5 and $6 million in 2006.
Glieberman had sought a $2-million loan from the CFL to help cover the projected losses but league governors voted against the proposal, and as a result the franchise was put up for sale March 22. Shortly afterwards, the league established a committee to find a new owner for the club in time for the upcoming season.
And while the CFL spoke to the likes of Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melynk, David Asper, executive vice-president of CanWest Global Communications Corp., and Anthony Primerano, the president of Golden Gate Capital, a mortgage-origination company based in Toronto, no deal could be reached.
With CFL training camps set to open later next month, the CFL faced two options: Fund the Renegades itself, or mothball the franchise for a year and continue the search for a new owner.
"We spent a lot of time analyzing and looking at the prospect of managing this ourselves," Wright said. "We looked at it and said to ourselves, 'Would we be able to do the product on the field, the organization and community justice by trying to manage this situation ourselves?' Again, we felt in the long-term interests of the fans and players it was right to suspend operations."
The CFL assumed operation of both the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts during the 2003 season when ownership for the two clubs either stopped or could no longer pay the bills. But the difference then, though, was the league stepped in at mid-season.
Operating the Renegades would've meant the CFL using funds allocated to its member teams to keep Ottawa afloat, and considering the majority of league teams are already losing money, that wasn't much of an option.
Ironically, CFL teams actually stand to benefit financially from the Renegades' demise. With one less team to split league-generated revenues with, the remaining eight clubs reportedly will receive an extra $160,000 apiece this season.
"We will now move into the next phase, which is working long-term to find the right ownership for Ottawa," Wright said, "We do have the luxury of time, however, and we will apply the same criteria that we had over the last two weeks moving forward."