|Photo Credit: Matt Smith|
A TEAM UNDER FIRE
REGINA -- Something really stinks.
And it's not just the Saskatchewan Roughriders' 1-6 record, but that's putrid enough.
No, Saturday's 19-10 Rider loss to the Calgary Stampeders at Mosaic Stadium capped one of the worst weeks in recent memory for this franchise. Now the 2016 Roughriders season is hanging in the balance and we've barely passed mid-August.
BUT! But, but, but, but, the current situation of the Saskatchewan Roughriders extends far past Saturday's game, and maybe even beyond this current season.
Twice in the past two weeks, the Riders were slapped with fines for breaking CFL rules. $15,000 for a ratio infringement on August 3, and then $60,000 last Thursday for roster violations. For those who don't understand these things (and apparently there are many), Rider Coach and GM Chris Jones got nailed for not playing the minimum amount of Canadians against B.C. on July 16, and further for having too many extra players around at practice who aren't under contract or on the team's roster.
Then, on Sunday, TSN's Gary Lawless reported the Riders were dinged with a $5,000 fine for prancing on the midfield logo in Calgary for too long two games ago. That's about as ticky-tack as it gets. Can somebody say "Witch Hunt"?
Frankly, for what I'd heard about the roster situation over the past five weeks and the subsequent investigation by the CFL, I figured one of two things was going to happen: Jones would've talked his way out of it and walked away unscathed, OR Jones and the Riders would face the firing squad to the tune of a $250,000 fine and the loss of first round draft picks for a period of years. (A la the Portland Winterhawks or New England Patriots).
However when the investigation was completed and the fine was announced on Thursday, CFL Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge slapped Saskatchewan with a $60,000 penalty. He split the difference.
My first reaction? "I was expecting way worse". And for fear of making the situation worse, I tempered my comments on-air about Orridge's decision. That is, until I saw a Tweet from TSN's Dave Naylor which said this was the maximum fine allowable by CFL rules.
Was this the highest fine in CFL history? Nobody seems to know. And that's the way things go in the CFL these days. You wouldn't want to actually announce facts like these when issuing news releases of this magnitude.
But oh no, it's the Roughriders whose conduct, behaviour and activities have compromised the reputation of the CFL as Orridge stated in his news release on Thursday.
The same 1-6 Saskatchewan Roughriders who are currently leading the league in attendance. The Gden Goose. The CFL has a problem alright, but it definitely ain't us.
More on that in a moment. A lot more.
However first, in my opinion, the Roughriders did get off easy in the arena of public opinion on the roster fine. If the Riders were guilty of such a sophisticated scandal as reporters Justin Dunk and Scott Mitchell alleged (of housing, feeding and paying non-roster players), they surely would've faced far more-significant sanctions.
However none of that was brought up by the CFL on Thursday in their decision.
The Roughriders could seriously look at action against Dunk and Mitchell if those cavalier accusations are proven to be false. Rider President Craig Reynolds' assertion on Friday that no non-roster players were being paid aligns with what I knew of the situation.
Another thought which bounced around my head was, "We're sure lucky Arash Madani is at the Olympics in Brazil right now" because the Sportsnet reporter loves scandals like these and takes no prisoners when it comes to exposing the truth. But it's Canada. The minimum effort will suffice.
If the Roughriders were an NFL team, ESPN would have a production truck parked outside Mosaic Stadium and they'd be broadcasting live for days. It would end up being a 30 for 30 documentary.
To me, if Jones really thought these tryouts were breaking the rules, he would've held them somewhere else in the city and no one would have even known it was going on. Instead, the tryouts were done in plain view at Mosaic Stadium and on July 15 when the B.C. Lions came into town, they saw it themselves.
But no, the Riders got off fairly easily but Orridge's swipe at them in his news release is something I'm not yet ready to let go of.
But the bigger situation here is where the Saskatchewan Roughriders are going under Chris Jones. Personally I like his direction, but others in the Rider Nation do not.
I'm not going to go back into my monologue on how I'm sick of playing by the rules and losing while watching other teams break the rules and win. (Go back to Friday's SportsCage podcast if you want to hear that). But the fact is Chris Jones is the CFL's answer to New England's Bill Belichik. He's always going to find a way to use his influence, bend the rules, find the loopholes, or occasionally break the rules in order to consistently win.
That's what I want in a Head Coach and in a General Manager.
And as far as this organization goes, any businessman would spend tens of thousand of dollars in order to make millions. That's what winning does.
But the Riders are 1-6 under Jones you say? To that I ask you who was last year's Grey Cup-winning Head Coach?
I thought so.
When I heard Craig Reynolds was racing home across the prairies from a vacation in B.C. in order to address reporters here on Friday, I thought to myself, "He'd best Google some quotes from Patriots owner Robert Kraft before he gets here".
I took the liberty of doing so myself. Here's an excerpt from an ESPN.com column from April 1/2008 when Belichik and the Patriots were nailed for "SpyGate", the scandal involving the videotaping of other teams' sideline signals:
- "New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick made the rounds on Tuesday, apologizing for and explaining Spygate.
In an emotional speech before NFL owners, Kraft and coach Belichick apologized for the franchise's involvement in the scandal.
With apparent tension in the meeting room, Kraft asked for time to speak and apologized for Spygate in which a videographer was caught taping signals of Jets defensive coaches. After an investigation, the Patriots lost a first-round draft choice and $250,000 and Belichick was fined $500,000.
Kraft spoke of the values of the partnership with the league and how disappointed he was that his team brought negative attention to the league. Colts coach Tony Dungy described the speech as heartfelt and excellent, saying "I appreciated what he had to say."
Others who listened believed Kraft was speaking from the heart. Once Kraft was done talking, the entire room broke into applause.
Belichick also requested time to speak. As he told reporters earlier in the day, he accepted the punishment and thought that action showed no gray area in regard to the rules involving spying. Since the season opener against the Jets, Belichick said he has changed the entire operation and is now moving forward with no misunderstanding."
That sounds exactly what went down here on Friday.
By the way the Patriots have appeared in two Super Bowls since Spygate, winning once in 2015. And now their quarterback Tom Brady will serve a four-game suspension to begin this season for his role in DeflateGate.
That's about all I have to say on that other than I'm glad Chris Jones is in charge here and hope he is for many, many years to come. I've had only one five-minute, "off the record" discussion with the man but it's clear our philosophies mesh.
And regarding Jeffrey Orridge and his claim that the Riders damaged the reputation of the CFL, well, that's a very disappointing statement for the Commissioner to make.
The CFL had better look in its own backyard when it comes to the Mickey Mouse nature of this league. I could go on for days citing examples but the first one that comes to mind is the mole in the CFL office who leaked all this year's draft picks to Sportsnet's Justin Dunk on 2016 Draft Day, completely ruining TSN's live Draft coverage. Perhaps Dunk was sitting in the league office himself and had access to the picks. Either way, TSN was livid. Not good for the CFL and to our knowledge, nothing was done about it.
What about the leak of the Riders' chats with Greg Hardy, or the worst logo launch in the history of pro sports at last year's Grey Cup in Winnipeg?
Those are just the public instances you all know about. What about the ones you don't?
A lot of the finger-pointing in the CFL right now is being directed at the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the heartbeat of the league. The marquee franchise.
People around here are still furious at the non-Pass Interference call against Naaman Roosevelt on the final play of the third quarter Saturday night, and a missed facemasking penalty against Darian Durant in the game's waning moments.
If Stampeders defensive back Jamar Wall had been called for Pass Interference on Naaman Roosevelt upon review - which he should have been - the Riders would've carried the lead into the fourth quarter and who knows how the game would have played out after that?
Some "fans" are pointing out that TSN's Glen Suitor stated that it wasn't Pass Interference.
So what? When did Glen Suitor become the CFL's Director of Officiating?
Besides, Suitor even said, "There was shoulder-to-shoulder contact on the play". Wall didn't go for the ball. He KNOCKED ROOSEVELT OVER before the ball arrived. That should've been a black and white call, not left up to judgment.
That potentially game-changing call was made out of the Command Centre at CFL head office in Toronto.
After the game Chris Jones and Rider linebacker Greg Jones alluded to the fact that non-call was a major factor in the outcome of the game. However they were smart enough not to say anymore.
So the Riders are 1-6. It is what it is. The prospects for the playoffs do not look good. The Chris Jones-led Roughriders will survive and ultimately thrive, but it might not be in 2016. I sometimes wonder if that was even the plan all along anyway.
And most of the anti-Roughrider bias these days seems to be coming out of CFL headquarters in Toronto, the very office which is overseen by one Jeffrey Orridge.
On Friday, September 16 Orridge will be in town for Plaza of Honor festivities. On the agenda is a Q&A.
It should be fun.