CFL must contend with a perception of bias against U.S. teams

THE BALTIMORE SUN

For all of the turmoil created over expansion into the United States, there is potentially a more ominous cloud hovering on the CFL horizon.

Questionable/ inconsistent/ bad (pick one) officiating is an issue that won't go away.

It surfaced once again in Week 17 when the Sacramento Gold Miners lost in Edmonton on a play they insist was a game-tying touchdown, but instead was ruled an incomplete pass.

A formal appeal to the league to overturn the decision was rejected when commissioner Larry Smith deemed the tape of the controversial finish inconclusive.

On the play in question, Sacramento receiver Marcus Dowdell appeared to juggle a pass from quarterback Kerwin Bell before falling on it in the end zone. Umpire Bill Wright waved off the touchdown, saying Dowdell did not have possession.

Then, too, the Gold Miners wanted a face mask penalty against Edmonton that would have given them one last shot from the 6-yard line.

They didn't get that call, either, even though a picture in the Edmonton Journal the next day showed pass rusher Leroy Blugh was guilty. (The game film also shows two uncalled holding penalties against Sacramento.)

Saddled with a 22-16 loss and eliminated from the Western Division playoffs, the Gold Miners fumed all last week.

"They're terrible," injured quarterback David Archer said of CFL officials. "The worst I've ever seen. I liken these guys and their decisions to small-college stuff.

"It's like the only time they're together to talk is the night before a game. They ought to have a two-week training camp like the players."

But there was an even more explosive tone to Sacramento comments.

Asked about a growing perception of bias against American teams, center Mike Kiselak sounded the CFL's worst fear.

"I kind of feel there's a little bit of that," he said. "I feel they didn't want two American teams in the playoffs, that they didn't want two American teams in the Grey Cup."

Sacramento president Tom Bass was more diplomatic. "I sincerely hope the league has come far enough that teams are viewed as member clubs, not as someone south of the border."

Does he believe that to be the case? "I want to believe it very much," he said.

If there's a perception of bias, there's a problem, whether true or not. The same weekend, a U.S. team (Shreveport) won in Toronto on a questionable -- but accurate -- call that allowed the Pirates to kick the winning field goal.

"When you increase [the number of officials] for expansion, you go through growing pains," Smith said. "Overall, it's been pretty good officiating. The errors are ones everybody can see."

Solutions? Pay the officials more, train them better, and introduce instant replay.

Spring forward, fall back?

To enhance expansion into the United States, the CFL is recruiting former USFL cities, such as Oakland, Calif.; San Antonio; Birmingham, Ala.; and Memphis, Tenn.

Ron Meyer, coach and general manager of the soon-to-be-uprooted Las Vegas Posse, says he thinks the league ought to take that theme one step further -- and move into the springtime slot once filled by the defunct USFL.

"If we had a spring schedule, we could start in May and end with the Grey Cup in August," Meyer said. "I think you could sell that package to the American TV networks."

He's not a big fan

Sacramento's first overtures to Oakland as a new home were not well-received. Alameda County Supervisor Don Perata, who faces the possible exodus of the Athletics and Golden State Warriors from Oakland, had the sharpest response.

"The CFL is not major-league sports," Perata said. "Canadian football is a . . . minor-league version of the NFL. That's not an acceptable Plan B. To win a CFL franchise is not winning.

"The CFL is just a little ahead of tractor pulls, roller-blade hockey and arena football. And with them, you're just a valley town."

Wake up, Dave

B.C. Lions coach Dave Ritchie had an interesting, if rather lame, rationale for his team's 48-31 loss in Baltimore two weeks ago. It had to do with crossing three time zones, arriving late in Baltimore and then having trouble getting to sleep at the team's hotel.

"All our rooms faced the bar and the pool," Ritchie said. "I'm not using it as an excuse, but it was not conducive to rest. And we had it for two nights."

So that's why he started quarterback Danny McManus ahead of Kent Austin.

Buyer be-Ware

Quarterback Andre Ware, who recently signed with the Ottawa Rough Riders, becomes the sixth Heisman winner to join the CFL. Others were halfback Billy Vessels (Oklahoma, 1952) with Edmonton, quarterback Terry Baker (Oregon State, 1962) with Edmonton, quarterback Gary Beban (UCLA, 1967) with Winnipeg, flanker Johnny Rodgers (Nebraska, 1972) with Montreal and quarterback Doug Flutie (Boston College, 1984) with B.C.

The Riders have told Ware (Houston, 1989) they will rip up his $145,000 contract and renegotiate a new one if he beats out incumbent Danny Barrett for the starting job next season.

Audibles

If Baltimore coach Don Matthews isn't a lock for coach of the year, they shouldn't have the award. . . . Without a place to play and little prospect for finding one soon, Larry Smith has ruled out New York/ Long Island as a 1995 expansion site. . . . Rough Riders cornerback Andre Francis says Ottawa is the Tampa Bay of the CFL. "Players flourish before they get here, then don't flourish again until after they've left," Francis said. Tampa's last winning season was 1982, Ottawa's 1979. . . . The CFL will change footballs next season, dumping the old J5V in favor of a new ball by Wilson. Equipment managers and quarterbacks were asked to complete a questionnaire last winter and it led to the change. . . . Smith says he doesn't have any problem with Baltimore going without a name, so as to appease the Colt-maniacs here.

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