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CFL's Ottawa return could be delayed further

Andrew Bucholtz
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No one ever said bringing the CFL back to Ottawa would be easy. In addition to the damage caused by the folding of the Rough Riders in 1996 and the collapse of the Renegades in 2005, there are also significant stadium issues that need to be addressed before professional football can be played in Lansdowne Park again (and the new conditional franchise's status was iffy enough that Hamilton Tiger-Cats' president Scott Mitchell threatened to move his team to Ottawa earlier this year before they got their own stadium deal). Still, it seemed like preparations were coming along pretty well for the franchise's return in 2013, with even the crucial expansion draft format set (and in a way that should help the new team). That was until the news came out earlier this week that Jeff Hunt (pictured above left with CFL commissioner Mark Cohon in 2008), Roger Greenberg and their ownership group may have to delay the franchise's return to the CFL until 2014. Here are the key details, from The Ottawa Citizen:

Delays in dealing with a legal challenge to the Lansdowne Park redevelopment project could push back the return of CFL football to Ottawa to 2014, says the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group's Roger Greenberg.

While OSEG has never set a firm start date for the expansion franchise it won in 2008, it has consistently targeted 2013 as the inaugural season. "Certainly our goal is to try to keep to that 2013 season," Greenberg, chief executive of Minto Group Inc., said Thursday.

But those hopes suffered a setback when a legal challenge to the redevelopment by the Friends of Lansdowne Park was recently rescheduled for late June. It was originally to have been heard the week of April 4.

As a result, Greenberg said he's "not sure how achievable" a 2013 start will be. "It's not just the hearings in June, but then we have to see how long it's going to take for the decision."

Greenberg isn't overly alarmed at the potential delay. "The project is going to get built," he said. "If it gets built a little bit later than we had originally proposed, OK, so what? It's not the end of the world."

No, it certainly isn't the end of the world, but this delay (which has disputed causes, by the way) could still have significant implications for the CFL. Getting back into Ottawa has been the league's top expansion priority for some time, and it seems likely that not much will happen on other expansion fronts (including a potential Maritime team, whether that's in Moncton or Halifax) while issues remain in Canada's capital. If expansion does go ahead elsewhere before 2014, the delay might actually work well, as a 10-team league is much easier to deal with from a scheduling and competitive perspective than a nine-team one, but the league may want to focus on one hot spot at a time; thus, a later start in Ottawa may hurt expansion dreams elsewhere (and may lose some of the momentum built by events like Touchdown Atlantic).

Speaking of momentum, that's an issue that could be at play in Ottawa as well. The conditional franchise was awarded to Hunt's group in 2008, but they've only made significantly limited progress so far. This could be another notable setback, and those setbacks certainly aren't likely to inspire a lot of faith or interest in the team right out of the gate. It's also worth nothing that the last CFL games in Ottawa will have been almost an entire decade ago if play does resume in 2014; that's quite a span of time. The longer it takes to get a team back in Ottawa, the more difficult it will be to get fans interested again, and that's why this news might be concerning to the league (court battles also don't always wrap up at convenient times, so it's possible the real delays could be even more significant than the ones anticipated here). At the moment, there doesn't appear to be any need for drastic action or reconsideration of the Ottawa plans, but this is a situation that will bear watching in the months to come.

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