Canadian Football League owners gave tentative approval yesterday to new ownership groups for the Ottawa Rough Riders and the Las Vegas Posse, clearing the way for a North-South divisional alignment sooner than expected.
At league meetings in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, the owners voted to approve the transfer of Ottawa's 119-year-old franchise to Chicago businessman Horn Chen for $3 million in Canadian currency.
Bruce Firestone, who owned the Rough Riders for only one season but built up massive debt, has filed for bankruptcy. The league will revoke his franchise, then award a new team to Chen, who owns three hockey teams in the United States and is the majority investor in the Central Hockey League.
The CFL owners also approved the sale and relocation of the Posse to Jackson, Miss. The Posse submitted a letter of intent to sell the team to Mississippi Sports and Entertainment Limited. Dane Read Matthews, who runs a sports merchandising business in Cleveland, heads the group that includes Mississippi attorney Ronald Weiss and businessman Billy Lyons.
Both deals are expected to be finalized by Thursday, and a league schedule released by March 20.
The transfer of the Posse, and the addition of expansion teams in Memphis and Birmingham, gives the CFL six teams in the U.S. League owners want to go to Canadian and U.S. divisions for the 1995 season, one year ahead of schedule. There are eight teams in Canada.
At their own meeting, league general managers favored an East-West divisional format, but feared it would put two U.S. teams in the Grey Cup. A North-South lineup assures the CFL of a Canada vs. U.S. format every year.
While he would not confirm the North-South preference, Baltimore owner Jim Speros suggested as much. "We've made new suggestions that we won't make public until TV has a chance to look at it," he said. "I don't think they'll have a problem with it."
Speros said he is pushing to open his season against the B.C. Lions in a rematch of the 1994 Grey Cup, won by B.C., 26-23.
NOTES: Birmingham is making the most waves in the free-agent signing period. It has signed linebacker Angelo Snipes of B.C. and cornerback Anthony Drawhorn of Saskatchewan and has an agreement in principle with quarterbacks Matt Dunigan of Winnipeg and Reggie Slack of Hamilton. B.C. has re-signed quarterback Danny McManus and is shopping Kent Austin. . . . Owners also approved the move of the Sacramento Gold Miners San Antonio. . . . Speros was named vice chairman of the league, and Baltimore limited partner Dr. Michael Gelfand was named chairman of the expansion committee.