|A pic from the first Wascana Lake walk of the spring. 4300 steps on the FitBit!|
As usual, it started out innocently enough. Last week on 620 CKRM's SportsCage I invited recently-retired University of Regina Athletics Director Dick White onto the show to discuss his beloved New York Rangers advancing to the Stanley Cup Eastern Conference Final. I felt it was topical, especially since Dick was recently named to the 2015 Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame induction class.
However White - who was also the long-time President of Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) - had other ideas. Dick was still fired up over the fact five CIS football players tested positive for Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED's) at the recent CFL Evaluation Camp in Toronto, and four ended up being drafted into the CFL a few weeks later.
That includes St. Mary's Huskies running back Melvin Abankwah who was drafted in the 6th round by your friendly neighbourhood Saskatchewan Roughriders.
White went on a nine minute rant which caught the attention of several CFL-types who, if they hadn't been listening live, certainly heard about it over the next 24 hours. For instance, I ran into a CFL assistant coach Saturday evening in the new Regina Keg. I asked him if he heard White's interview and he responded, "No, but I heard about it." That's when I knew this story had some legs.
So here's what Dick White had to say:
"More than anything I'm really disappointed. What about the guys that were at the combine that were clean and didn't get drafted? It's almost as if, although the CFL professes to say that they'll test for PED's and they don't endorse it, on the other hand you go ahead and test and someone tests positive, and yet you still welcome them into your training camp to be part of your team?
"I guess that's professional sport and they may decide to do what they want. Unfortunately what this may well do is make it very difficult at the CIS level to have any teeth in the enforcement and the education that we do at the CIS level. Because if you're a fourth or fifth year athlete and your season's done, you may as well hit the juice, if you're not worried about your health and all the things that are well-known when it comes to steroids. You think you have a chance at the CFL, hit the juice, test well, and maybe you'll get a job in the CFL. It just doesn't make any sense in our society as far as I'm concerned."
Of course there are many football personnel, fans included, who don't give a rip about players using PED's. After all, it's their bodies. Dick White considered those folks in his monologue.
"Unless, there are those people out there that say 'Let's let people take the steroids and go ahead and don't worry about it'," White continued. "Well I'm not gonna be there and that's a different planet from where I'm on. I just think, given that the CIS is one of the paths into the CFL, and to think that they wouldn't be in concert with testing considering they have a drug policy within the CFL! Then they take somebody that tests (positive) and let them go ahead and go to camp. It just makes no sense."
I stopped White midway through his diatribe and asked if it will make the CIS reconsider drug-testing entirely, given the fact the CFL doesn't seem too concerned about it.
"Well no kidding!" White huffed. "I'm still on the CIS Board and I'm a Member at Large and will be on the Board till June. One of the discussions we're having right now is if the CCEF, the government agency that does the testing, won't provide testing to the CIS. They basically restrict their testing to Olympic athletes and those sports so we're looking at a way to put money into the system so we can have at least football testing. If there are 50 positive tests in the past 10 years, 49 of them are football. Womens field hockey isn't really causing us a lot of problems here. We know that we have to do testing as a deterrent.
"Testing itself is a deterrent and it needs to be fairly intense. And it needs to be broad-based, random and it needs to be off-season. Then there needs to be consequences if there is a positive test. If you lose the consequences, then you lose a good deal of the teeth in any kind of policies that say we want to promote drug-free sport in Canadian universities which I think is a very laudible value in the kind of things parents out there with young men going to school out there probably want. In fact I have no doubt about that.
"So I do not know why the CFL would not just say 'no'? Are they that desperate for players that if somebody tests positive, that they'll still take them? I saw the headline in Thursday's Leader Post and that's what got me going. You know, 'give them a second chance'. Well okay, come back with, if you don't like the four year suspension, come back with an option with at least a year or two or something. Some consequence. Right now there's just nothing to hold back the good, senior athletes from using and as I say, what about the guys who are clean and didn't get drafted? That's a bummer. And that's just wrong."
However White and the CIS refuses to wave the white flag.
"We believe in this very strongly," Dick said. "Sport Canada believes in this very strongly. In fact if we don't endorse a drug policy, we don't get the hundreds of thousands of dollars as a CIS entity to deliver a national product. This is very disappointing to me that something that we, and the CFL, talk about as being partners in delivery of this football product, that they realize there's better and better athletes coming out of the CIS every year. So they recognize the talent that is being produced but to allow this to happen, I'm just disappointed because I'm such a fan of the league, I'm such a fan of the Roughriders and that's not going to change, but to me it's just a sad day.
"If we have limited dollars, drug-testing needs to be concentrated on football because that's where 95% of our positive tests come from. And we don't get very many. Let's be clear about that -- we don't get a lot BUT that's where we're finding the PED's are being used."
He wasn't done there.
"There's a lot of doubt about whether the (pro) leagues are very serious about testing because I think they'll lose some stars," White theorized. "I think the unfortunate part here - and anyone can have their own opinion on whether pro athletes can use steroids, I have mine - I guess the problem is this trickles down. If we can't control it at the CIS level, then the high school kid that wants to play university starts up on it. Where does it trickle down from there? This whole thing has societal impact and it does matter what the CFL does. It does matter."
And finally, White questioned the Roughriders (and the other CFL teams who drafted these players) for their methods.
"I would hope that our league would be better than that," White concluded. "I'm a fan of Rider GM Brendan Taman but his comment about Quinn Smith in Calgary (the Stamps' 2014 first rounder defensive lineman who tested positive for PED's in university), that just reminded of my Mom saying 'If Fred jumped off a bridge, would you jump off a bridge?' That doesn't make it right just because Quinn Smith in Calgary got to play for Calgary and he had a positive drug test. I don't even think the story was spun very well.
"I can't see any positive in this at all."
THE OTHER SIDE
To get somewhat of the other side of the story, I asked SportsCage football analyst Scott Schultz for his opinion on the Riders drafting Abankwah. Schultz - who's bound for the Riders' Plaza of Honor - played nine CFL seasons plus had stints with the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers.
|Schultz in his glory days|
Sounds reasonable enough. And Schultz said PED's and football will likely always go hand-in-hand.
"This is nothing new. This has been going on," Schultz disclosed. "You look at the Big 10 in the 1990's when things ran wild. Sport is sport. There will always be cheaters and people looking for the edge. I think that it's all about education and what the individual programs can do. By and large, in the CFL, the guys that you knew were freak-show, juice freaks weren't guys that were going to be that successful anyways. There's something to be said about the talent. In the NFL, you're dealing with a different situation."
It was a fun topic to delve into, but it seems as though it'll always be pro football's "dirty little secret".
HOW WILL THE RIDERS BE IN 2015?
As the calendar winds down towards the start of 2015 Roughriders training camp in Saskatoon on Sunday, May 31, I continue to survey SportsCage analysts on how they think the Green & White will fare this season. Friday was Scott Schultz's turn and I asked him if he envisions the Riders being in the 2015 Grey Cup in Winnipeg.
"For me I'm always going to say yes," said the Old 96er. "I really do feel that Darian Durant is healthy and we've got firepower. I think we've got an offensive coordinator that will do a better job of utilizing the talents that he has in the cupboard. My only question now is how is the ratio all going to be played out? And injuries
"I think we've got solid guys on the offensive line. Our defense is legit. I think we've got studs in every position. We've brought in guys, made trades, yah, I'm excited.
"On paper, where no game is ever played, we're sitting pretty good right now. It's just how - once the pieces are on the chess board and things start moving - how do we get into the season as far as injuries go and guys living up to what we've signed."
THEY'RE MOWING OUR LAWN!
Imagine being out for dinner with your lovely wife when a younger, better-looking, richer guy sits down at your table, puts his arm around your spouse, and starts putting the moves on her. Trust me, I've had it happen and it doesn't feel very good.
Well that's exactly what the NFL started doing last week when it sent a survey out to Canadian football fans to gauge their interest in the four down game. One of those fans forwarded me the survey via email so I took the 10-minute test Sunday evening.
The NFL wanted to know the obvious questions (gender, age, household income, etc.) but then they ventured into Canadian football fans' knowledge of their various broadcast products such as NFL Network, Red Zone, NFL Game Pass, Thursday Night Football, Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football. They asked how many times - if at all - we watched these programs. They also wanted to know if we access their programming from a smartphone or tablet.
An interesting question on the survey was if they added CFL football to their programming, how likely would we be to watch it? (Hopefully there was a CHECK beside that question by every Canadian polled).
They seemed to be pushing the Red Zone package (which I've never watched) by asking how much you'd be willing to pay for a subscription and if it were added free-of-charge to a bundle, would you be more likely to purchase NFL Sunday Ticket? They're smart these buggers.
One can only hope the CFL is mounting some sort of strike against the NFL because gradually they are winning the turf war in Canada for eyeballs. I've been beating this drum for the past few years but whenever I discuss it with TSN types, they generally roll their eyes, scoff, and say "It'll never happen. They'll never beat us in Canada".
To quote Gary Etcheverry, "Never's a long time".
MONDAY MORNING QUICK HITS
- Got a tip at 12:15 pm on Monday that Todd McLellan would in fact be the next head coach of the Edmonton Oilers. The email stated that the Oilers will be sending a private plan to San Jose to scoop Todd up upon his return from the World Hockey Championships in the Czeck Republic and he'll be whisked off to the Alberta capital to a sign a five-year contract and be introduced at a news conference later this week.
I was hoping to to hold onto the news until Tuesday morning however Sportsnet broke the story a few hours later. However my Monday evening Tweet about the private plane and McLellan received - the last I looked - 89 retweets and 40 favorites. That's easily the most viral reaction I've ever received for a hockey scoop.
- Some Oilers fans, including former Regina Pats forward Kevin "Chet" Clemens, already are gaving the hiring a thumbs-down due to Todd's lack of playoff success in San Jose. That has haunted McLellan since his days with the Swift Current Broncos in the 1990's but ever since the Melville product led the Houston Aeros to a Calder Cup championship in 2003, I personally have laid those fears to rest. He also owns a Stanley Cup ring from 2008 when he was an assistant to Mike Babcock.
- Todd will do well in Edmonton however it's certainly another slap in the face to current interim Oilers coach Todd Nelson who turned the team around in 2015 and earned the respect and admiration of his players. However you can't blame new Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli for wanting "his own guy".
- I felt McLellan would have been a better fit with the Detroit Red Wings, assuming Babcock moves on, however Twitter rumours Monday evening suggest Babcock will stay in the Motor City to sign a short term deal.
- Todd certainly did a masterful job of guiding Canada to a gold medal at the World Hockey Championships. Perhaps he'll achieve new heights now that he's free of the perennial under-achievers in the Bay Area.
- On Sunday I just had to find a place that had both the Chicago-Anaheim game and the Canada-Russia gold medal game on at the same time. So we opted for the Press Box Sports Bar and it didn't disappoint. However, interestingly enough, with the games side-by-side, the international game was WAY faster and drew our eyes to it as opposed to the NHL playoff match. The Blackhawks and Ducks seemed tentative as they felt each other out in Game 1.
- Other Thoughts: Given the choice of CBC's Jim Hughson or NBC's Doc Emrick for the New York-Tampa Bay series, I'll go with Hughson every day of the week and twice on Sundays.
- PVR from Access is the greatest invention since Cheez Whiz. It gives you the opportunity to rewind your own replays for the too-often occasions that the networks miss.
- It must be getting close to football season. I'm having dreams about the Roughriders lately. However Sunday night I had a dream that the Regina Pats won the 2016 Memorial Cup. Oddly enough, in the sleepy trance, I dreamt that Sportsnet's Sam Cosentino got a Memorial Cup ring from the Pats after the win. Good for Sammy!
- I thought the call of Brian Munz on TSN's broadcast of Sunday's RBC Cup final between Portage and Carleton Place was superb, and I told him so. When the Terriers poured off their bench on home-ice to mob their goalie after a 5-2 win, Munzie belted out, "They're the top dogs in Canada!" Nicely done.
- No less than THREE Regina Pats alumni share birthdays today: Tony Vogel (51), Jeff Petruic (41) and Brett Leffler (26). Happy birthday fellas!
- The Philadelphia Flyers hired Dave Hakstol from the University of North Dakota as their new head coach over the weekend. Hakstol is the first NCAA coach to go straight to the NHL since Herb Brooks in 1987. What's the connection? The son of Flyers GM Ron Hextall played for Hakstol in Grand Forks.
- That leaves Toronto, Buffalo, San Jose and Detroit as possible destinations for Mike Babcock. I have a feeling he'll be guiding the Maple Leafs next season while CKRM's Tiger Williams still contends Babcock will be in charge of the Sabres. Hopefully we'll know soon.
- Four tickets for the Northern Kickoff CFL preseason game between the Roughriders and Eskimos in Fort McMurray, AB are going for $416 on Kijiji.com.
- The WHL scored a major victory on Monday when the State of Washington voted that major junior hockey players are to be deemed "amateur" workers rather than "seasonal". WHL Commissioner Ron Robison was on hand for the good news. That should quash the movement currently taking place in Ontario.
- Sunday marked the 5th anniversary of the SportsCage radio program on 620 CKRM. Way back on Monday, May 17, 2010, we broadcast the program live from Capital Ford with guests Kelly Hrudey, Peter Loubardias and Riders head scout Craig Smith. Our radio consultant at the time rated that day's program with a "0.5 out of 10". He's no longer with us.
That consultant preferred a program such as ESPN's Colin Cowherd with me, alone in the booth, interviewing sports personalities on the phone or in studio for two hours. I opted for a Howard Stern Show for sports type of feel, or a sports version of CKRM's Flea Market. He kept saying, "the show should be all about YOU!" and I always countered with, "Then let me do it the way I want!!!"
I think it's all turned out for the best, but I'm still learning day-by-day, trying to figure out what you listeners want to hear.
- What's with the rage over Regina's Milky Way? It's great and all, but I still prefer good ol' Dairy Queen. It doesn't hurt that it's 600 steps from our house (the FitBit strikes again). The new Salted Caramel Truffle Blizzard will make your knees buckle. It's like dumping a box of Pot of Gold chocolates into a blender and mixing it with ice cream. I'll go postal if the Pictons ever take it off the menu.
THAT'S ALL FOR THIS WEEK! SEE YOU IN THE CAGE AT 4 PM