The CFL is in a bit of a bind without a commissioner
We may be almost four months away from the beginning of the CFL season, but there are plenty of things happening that have nothing do with the product on the field. Free agency is well underway, a number of trades have already happened, contracts are being extended, but perhaps the most interesting development is at the top of the league’s food chain.
The CFL is on the hunt for a new commissioner, with Mark Cohon officially ending his term, and with the CFL’s Board of Governors Chairman Jim Lawson taking over on an interim basis. The goal, as was reported by the Toronto Star, is to have a new leader in place by May. It has also been reported that the new commissioner would have to be looking to make a six-to-eight-year commitment.
Shortly after previous commissioner Mark Cohon publicized that he would not be seeking a contract extension, the CFL announced that a search committee would be formed. The committee, made up of the aforementioned Lawson as well, as a number of members of the league’s senior leadership, would also consult the nine member clubs.
In being the first new commissioner for the league since 2007 (when Cohon replaced Tom Wright), the successful candidate will have a number of challenges on their plate. With four years left on the league’s television deal with TSN, a hot-off-the-press collective bargaining agreement, and a relatively successful league, there are many bright spots, but there are also a few troublesome sections of the person’s prospective job description.
The biggest challenge will be the Toronto Argonauts’ struggles. With their lease set to expire at Rodgers Centre within the next couple of years, the pressure is on for the team to find a long-term home. Combine this soon-to-be lack of home field with the fact that the Argos are floundering in the CFL’s biggest media market, and you have a potential recipe for disaster. It is never a good sign when, in a nine team league, one person owns two squads (David Braley being in control of both the Argos and the BC Lions).
Another challenge for the new commissioner will be to expand the game’s viewership to a new generation of fans. With so many sporting events vying for young sports fans’ attention, and with the NFL as the league’s ever-present competitor, the league, spearheaded by whoever replaces Cohon, will have to create an even better fan experience. Whether that means expansion, increased parity in the standings (so that the west division isn’t continually destroying their eastern counterparts), or making a concerted effort to reach out to an international audience, the CFL’s new front man will have to explore every option to maintain the league’s viability going forward.
Ultimately, whoever is hired will hold a strong position as the commissioner of the one truly Canadian professional sports league. With that comes the opportunity to shape the Canadian sports landscape for the better, and to grow the sport of football across the country.