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Rob Ford turns into an unexpected ally in the Argonauts’ quest for a new CFL-specific stadium

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Rob Ford participated in the Argos' 2012 parade: can he help them get a new stadium?

It's no secret that the Toronto Argonauts are desperately in need of a new stadium: discussions on that front have been going on for over a decade, and several plans (including sharing a rebuilt Varsity Stadium with the University of Toronto and sharing BMO Field with Toronto FC) have advanced significantly before falling apart. The clock's ticking, too: the Blue Jays plan to install real grass at the Rogers Centre and kick the football team out, and they've reportedly told the Argonauts to find a new home within five years. Still, there hasn't been a lot of momentum in favour of the Argonauts, as their various plans have been opposed by everyone from local academics to fans of other local sports teams. The push for a new Argos' stadium received a boost from an unlikely source this week, though—Toronto mayor Rob Ford. The Toronto Sun's Don Peat relays remarks Ford made during a press conference Tuesday after returning from a trip to Winnipeg and Regina, where he took in Bombers' and Riders' games and became inspired to get the Argonauts a new field:

While watching the Toronto Argonauts trounce the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the mayor says he was amazed by the atmosphere inside the Bombers’ Investors Group Field.

“That’s what you call football,” Ford said during a press conference.

“There is 35,000 fans dedicated to their team. I’m not saying we’re not. We need a football stadium in the city, bad.”

The avid Argos fan said he’s “doing everything possible” to get a “made-for-football” stadium in Toronto, including trying to sit down with the Argo owners.

As for where the stadium would go, Ford floated a variety of locations.

“Where can we build it? Where can we put a 35,000-seat stadium? We can either work on U of T, we can either work with (BMO Field). Maybe at Downsview? Maybe at Woodbine?” Ford told reporters. “We need a football stadium in this city … especially after winning the Grey Cup.”

It's no secret that Ford's a big football fan. He famously coached the Don Bosco Eagles high school team until this year, keeping that job even after it got him (temporarily) removed from the mayor's office over conflict of interest allegations and taking them to the Metro Bowl championship game. Ford's family has been involved in various football sagas, too, with niece Krista playing for the Lingerie Football League's Toronto Triumph (and later being one of the 22 players who quit that team over safety concerns) and brother (and Toronto city councillor) Doug ineptly leading the charge for the NFL in Toronto. Still, it's a little surprising to see Ford so firmly in favour of a CFL-specific stadium. Yes, he's often at Argos' games (he famously received a game ball from Alouettes' receiver Arland Bruce III during a preseason game this year), yes, he was involved in the Grey Cup festivities last November (from falling down during a football game to controversially lifting the Grey Cup during the Argos' championship parade), and yes, he even makes CFL picks on the radio, so this isn't the first time he's been linked to the league, but it's notable to see him publicly advocating for a new Argonauts' stadium solution—and one that couldn't be used for the NFL.

Really, that's the crucial element here. Lobbying for a football stadium from Toronto officials isn't new, as Doug Ford's been talking about that for years and years, but many of those discussions have focused on building something that could potentially attract a NFL team (which would likely require even a bigger stadium than the 54,000-seat Rogers Centre). That talk has cooled, though, and the Bills in Toronto series has gone from a threat to the CFL so prominent that Senator Larry Campbell introduced a bill in 2008 to prevent an NFL team from making its permanent home in Canada (it didn't pass) to an ambiguous sign of the NFL's future in Canada in 2010 to something the Bills' Eric Wood called "a joke" in 2012 to an extended agreement for one regular-season game a year over the next five years (and one exhibition game) that might actually be one of the CFL's best defences against a full American invasion. The idea of a full-time NFL franchise in Toronto seems to have gone by the board, and that may be why Rob Ford's on board with something that would help the Argonauts and not the NFL.

Ford's endorsement is something the Argonauts should jump on. While other councillors, including Mike Layton, have dismissed the idea so far, citing the Rogers Centre as the Argos' stadium, it's clear that won't be a solution for long. The Rogers Centre is far from an ideal football venue at the best of times, and that's before you consider the mess the team winds up in thanks to playing second fiddle to the Blue Jays (and often other events) from a scheduling perspective. That's why they have to settle for ludicrous midweek home dates such as next Tuesday's clash against B.C., and why they weren't able to schedule the traditional Labour Day Classic against the Tiger-Cats this year. Moreover, the Jays' plan to go to real grass (which would likely be quite helpful from a baseball standpoint) would make the stadium unusable for football and baseball (football does enough damage to natural grass to make it problematic for other sports), so their ultimatum to the Argos has some logic behind it. It's clear the team's going to need to find a new home.

The Argonauts should embrace that forced move as an opportunity, though. The (lack of) a good football atmosphere at the Rogers Centre has exacerbated their attendance difficulties, and a new CFL-specific stadium would dramatically help there. It wouldn't even need to be 35,000 seats: Hamilton's new Tim Hortons Field will seat just 24,000 regularly (although it can be expanded to 40,000 for the Grey Cup or a similar event), and something similar would be about perfect for the Argos. Ford obviously can't make this happen on his own, and he often hasn't been able to get Toronto council on his side, but he does wield significant influence and has been able to make progress on even contested projects like the Scarborough subway extension. Ford's still a controversial figure, but his backing's the best endorsement the Argonauts have received outside of the CFL thus far, and it should give them an extra push to come up with a new, feasible stadium plan. This is going to have to happen for the CFL to survive in Toronto, and there's no time like the present—especially when the mayor's on your side.

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