Despite league assurances that progress was being made in the Ottawa Renegades salvage operation, the prevailing mood in the Canadian Football League last night was one of deep concern.
Club officials remained largely in the dark about what league governors would hear in a telephone conference call concerning the club. The call was planned for this afternoon, but has been delayed until tomorrow.
Wright was expected to detail a plan whereby majority owner Bernie Glieberman would accept some of the estimated $6-million in losses for the 2006 season, perhaps as much as $3-million. The rest of the Renegades' deficit would be covered by the league. That could end up costing the eight other franchises $400,000 to $600,000 each.
But a team source yesterday said discussion among the clubs had revealed an overwhelming consensus against funding Ottawa to any degree.
Funding is a tough sell among governors who have grown impatient with the Ottawa situation in the past 1Â½ years and are hesitant to throw what many argue would be good money after bad.
Wright, who returned from vacation on Sunday, met with Glieberman and also spoke with minority partner Bill Smith by phone.
The league office issued a statement claiming "significant progress was achieved in establishing clarity and identifying options for 2006 and beyond."
Three years ago, the CFL operated both the cash-starved Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats, but, because those were midseason bankruptcies, the league was only on the hook for half the season and therefore less money.
In this case, the Renegades would have to be funded from training camp through 18 regular-season games. Ottawa is currently functioning with a bare-bones staff with no ability to sell tickets or sponsorships as the team twists in the wind.
The lack of infrastructure makes running the Renegades more akin to a start-up operation than a takeover. One source estimated losses for such an operation could reach as high as $8-million.
While many club officials were once confident that Ottawa could be salvaged for the coming season, most have become far less optimistic. It is believed that the league and commissioner Wright only became aware of the severity of the problem in recent weeks, which explains why the CFL is now faced with a difficult decision so close to the opening of training camps, two months away.
There has been talk the CFL may consider suspending the Renegades for 2006. That's a tactic used by the National Lacrosse League to avoid folding a franchise. However, the nature of building a competitive CFL team would render any future team starting from scratch a tough sell in a market already suffering from four losing seasons.
Even if the Renegades can be saved, this recent episode is expected to be a blow to Wright, who is entering the final year of his contract. Under his tenure as commissioner, one-third of the CFL's teams have succumbed to financial woes and turned to the league for assistance.
Governors David Braley of the B.C. Lions and Robert Wetenhall of the Montreal Alouettes wanted a new commissioner hired when Wright's contract expired last year. Instead, Wright was given a one-year extension.