CFL Commissioner Change Embarrasses the League

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TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 1: CFL Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge photographed at the CFL Headquarters in downtown Toronto. (Cole Burston/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Jeffrey Orridge was doomed from the start. The biggest criticism of his two year tenure since he resigned from his job as CFL commissioner ranged from ‘he doesn’t know the league because he’s not from here’ to ‘my god he changed the logo’. Do these arguments actually pass for serious debate nowadays?

CFL Commissioner Change Embarrasses the League

When Orridge first took office, he said one of the reasons he wanted to be part of the league was its history of inclusiveness and fairness. He cited the legacy of black CFL quarterbacks playing in an era when the NFL turned its back on the likes of Chuck Ealey and Warren Moon. So how did the former high-powered NBA exec who saved Hockey Night in Canada and the Olympics for CBC get rewarded? Second guessing and criticism of petty issues until he found his own way out the door.

Unfairly Took Blame for Toronto Grey Cup Debacle

The Grey Cup committee has avoided Toronto may times, fearing a Grey Cup disaster. Grey Cup ’92 was marked by eight thousand empty blue seats, exposing to the world that the championship game was anything but a hot ticket in Toronto. Cash-strapped then-Argo owner Bruce McNall then sold the rights to the ’93 game to Calgary to avoid a repeat of the humiliation. From there, it took fifteen seasons for the league to return.

Argo owners David Cynamon, Howard Sokolowski and Grey Cup exec Brad Watters did a phenomenal job selling that game but if you read Jim Hopson’s book “Running the Riders” he speaks of watching that game from a vacant Skydome luxury box to illustrate the lukewarm reception that event got from corporate Canada. Millions in federal funding and an Argo appearance celebrating the one hundredth Grey Cup propped up the 2012 game. But but by last November, that well had run dry. New owners were eager to reap a Grey Cup windfall before they were ready to host one.

Blamed for Being Too Hard on the Riders

Orridge took all kinds of heat for cracking down on the Saskatchewan Roughriders and their roster violations. Apparently he’s not supposed to enforce the rules as commissioner? He took all kinds of heat for not communicating with the fans directly in a way his predecessor Mark Cohon during his eight-year tenure, though Orridge was clearly visible mingling with the folks at the first ever—and hugely successful—CFL week in downtown Regina back in March. How much credit does he get for that? Just about none.

Another Black Eye for CFL

The embarrassing treatment of its last commissioner is yet another dent in the CFL’s image. Like all major pro sports leagues, it has shown itself to be run by a small crew of power-tripping owners with deep pockets but no real vision of how to move the league forward. The commissioner is a commissioner in name only and with rare exception, not much more than a puppet for the franchisees.

Piling on a commissioner over a new logo (which previously changed in 2003, and no one at the time seemed to care much) is ridiculous. To suggest he wasn’t fit to be commissioner because he was from the United States and not Canada is even worse. It’s discrimination against somebody for being from a country that produced many of the star athletes who’ve dazzled CFL audiences for the past one hundred-plus years. American players, coaches and fans should be outraged.

No disrespect to Randy Ambrosie or his supporters, because he is a solid citizen and a solid hire. But so was Jeffrey Orridge. And for the way he was shown the door, the Canadian Football League has nothing to be proud of.

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