CFL: Expansion a Risky Business

Matt EichelSenior Writer IJune 12, 2008


Sounds like a word that can bring joy, anger, hostility, and a whole host of other emotions to fans in any sports league.

To some, expansion throws tradition and history out the door. To others, it's a chance to create something new.

In the Canadian Football League, expansion has always seemed to be a hot button subject of debate.

Back at the start of the 1990s, the CFL, in an attempt to compete with the rival National Football League to the south, decided to expand into the United States. In 1993, the first US-based CFL team—the Sacramento Gold Miners—was admitted into the league.

The Sacramento-based franchise finished its inaugural season with a 6-12 record, yet showed many positives with a balanced lineup. With a 5-4 home record, Sacramento seemed to be a success in 1993.

CFL commissioner Larry Smith then decided to conduct further expansion, as the CFL expanded further in 1994, adding the Las Vegas Posse, Baltimore Stallions, and Shreveport Pirates.

Las Vegas was a disaster both on the field and financially, and folded by season's end.  Shreveport had a sense of failure from the beginning, firing their first head coach John Huard before the season even started, and attendance was very low since fans were used to the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints.  In addition, the Pirates took 15 weeks to win their first game. They would fold after the 1995 CFL season.

Baltimore's success still gave commissioner Larry Smith hope that the CFL could thrive in the U.S.  Their 12-6 record in 1994 propelled the new franchise to an appearance in the 1994 Grey Cup. Baltimore, which were originally named the CFL Colts, was sued by the NFL due to the rights the Indianapolis Colts had on the name.  Baltimore played the season known as the Baltimore CFLers or the Baltimore F.C.

As the 1995 CFL season began, U.S. expansion took another turn for the worse. Two new teams—the Birmingham Barracudas and the Memphis Mad Dogs—were added to the mix, while the Sacramento Gold Miners were moved to San Antonio and became the Texans.

Birmigham and Memphis both had reasonable success in 1995, yet had severe attendance shortages during the college football season.  Yet, both Baltimore and San Antonio had very viable operations and were expected to become staples in the CFL.

Baltimore had an amazing run, led by legendary head coach Don Matthews, that led to the Stallions becoming the first non-Canadian CFL team to capture the Grey Cup in 1995.

However, by year's end, the expansion dream was over, and both Birmingham and Memphis folded.  In conjuction with NFL owner Art Modell announcing he was moving the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, the Stallions were forced to move.  The Stallions moved to Montreal and became the revived Montreal Alouettes in 1996.  San Antonio also folded.

With the end of U.S. expansion, the Ottawa Rough Riders also folded, bringing the CFL team count down to eight.

However, after five years of relative calm, the CFL again gave an expansion franchise to the city of Ottawa—the Ottawa Renegades.  After a few years of mixed success, the Renegades could not be viable financially and were put on hold, while all their players were divided among the other teams.

Expansion to other Canadian cities seems to be the topic of discussion in recent years.  Windsor, Ontario—which helped co-host Super Bowl XL—has been vying for a chance to be granted a potential 10th CFL franchise.

The frontrunner to being granted a CFL franchise is Halifax, Nova Scotia.  Already granted a conditional franchise in 1984—the Atlantic Schooners—the city of Halifax longs for a team.  After "Touchdown Atlantic," which featured an exhibition game between the Toronto Argonauts and the Hamilton Tiger Cats, the city of Halifax seems to be able to want and support a team.

Other cities, such as Moncton, New Brunswick, Quebec City, and London, Ontario are also possible expansion sites.  Moncton has already begun construction on a CFL-capacity stadium in hopes of luring a CFL expansion team to the city.

Yet, as the 2008 CFL season gets ready to kick off June 26 in Hamilton, expansion has been brought up yet again as a real possibility.  Jeff Hunt—owner of the OHL's Ottawa 67s—has an ownership group in place to bring the Renegades back to Ottawa for the 2010 CFL season.  With Ottawa's re-entrance back into the league, the expansion question will begin to be asked once again.

This time...will those cities get an answer?