The Ottawa Renegades' ability to kick off the 2006 Canadian Football League season has been thrown into serious doubt and will be determined during a high-level meeting in Toronto next week.
Since the resignation of club president Lonie Glieberman two weeks ago, majority owner Bernie Glieberman has been waffling about his continued financial support of a money-losing team whose staff no longer includes his son. Now, Bernie Glieberman is also troubled about whether minority owner Bill Smith is prepared to fund his share of losses this season after Glieberman assumed the team's entire $3.8-million shortfall in 2005.
Glieberman recently demanded another meeting with Smith and CFL commissioner Tom Wright. The meeting, which would be their second face-to-face session this month, is expected to occur when Wright returns from a vacation in the Dominican Republic.
Critically, the parties will have to decide how to divvy up losses expected to reach at least $5 million in 2006.
Anything short of an agreement with Smith and Glieberman is prepared to walk away from the team before training camp begins in May, leaving its very existence in jeopardy.
"I have a call into Bernie, but he has not told me that," Smith said last night from his home in Orillia, Ont. "If there was light at the end of the tunnel, and the team was run with an achievable budget, I would be willing to fund my share. But am I willing to do it for a ridiculous amount of money? Probably not."
Smith maintained that he was not willing to be the club's sole financier. If Glieberman left, the league and its other eight teams would have to decide whether to fund the Renegades in 2006 or fold the franchise.
Glieberman and Smith struck a partnership last year under which Glieberman committed to funding the team. Smith had the option of either covering his share of the losses or having his 49 per cent stake in the franchise diluted accordingly.
"I don't exactly know how much of the team I own right now, but I've certainly been watered down," Smith said.
The Renegades' season-ticket base stands at only about 2,000 subscribers, and that money has already been spent.
Glieberman is currently writing cheques to cover the team's costs, and expensive items such as signing bonuses, player salaries, team travel, and training camp will come due. The Renegades have still not booked flights and hotels for 10 scheduled road games, and they still have not confirmed a training camp location.
The Renegades' precarious situation is gaining the attention of other owners, who would be on the financial hook if the CFL took over the team.
The heightened concern arose after Glieberman and Eric Tillman hit a snag in contract negotiations.
Tillman, the team's former general manager who is set to return in a senior football operations role, asked that either Glieberman or the league guarantee his base salary. That request was rejected, and talks have since hit an impasse.
Glieberman did not return several messages left by The Citizen yesterday.
Smith has long supported re-hiring Tillman and hiring a chief executive officer to run the club's business affairs. Glieberman agreed to those requests, and, since Lonie Glieberman's resignation on March 2, the duo has interviewed at least four CEO candidates while laying the groundwork for Tillman's return.
However, Glieberman also signalled an exit strategy, asking fans to to deliver a verdict on his stewardship of the franchise and wondering aloud whether he was the "right" owner for Ottawa's team.
Since then, CFL power-brokers have been operating on the premise that Glieberman would fund the team this year, but that he would likely leave after the season, meaning a new partner for Smith or someone to buy the team outright would be needed for 2007.
DONT FOLD....move to Quebec-City. ( i wonder what would happen to the touchdown atlantic game, if the gades fold? )