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CFL tied to pro football railroad tracks


As bad weeks go -- and the Canadian Football League has had its share lately -- this one marked the low point of 1995.

The league's three-year experiment with U.S. expansion has never been in a more perilous position.

Lagging attendance has been a problem all year in the United States, which has produced four of the five lowest averages in the 13-team CFL. A lack of television revenue continues to dog the financially troubled league, and the CFL took its biggest hits this week with two announcements just hours apart.

When the Cleveland Browns announced Monday that they were moving to Baltimore next year, that spelled the unofficial end of the Baltimore Stallions.

The same day, Birmingham owner Art Williams said he is thinking about selling the Barracudas, an expansion team that flopped at the turnstiles after an encouraging start last summer.

Grab a scorecard to keep up with the damage.

The Stallions are (or were) the bellwether of the CFL expansion effort. Even though attendance dropped by more than 7,000 per game this year, Baltimore still drew an average of just over 30,000 in its second season, good enough for second-highest in the league.

Birmingham hoped to be successful where four other pro football teams had failed. The Barracudas opened with a crowd exceeding 31,000 in July. By September, fans were sending the unmistakable message that they prefer the college traditions of Alabama and Auburn to three-down novelty. In its last four home games, Birmingham failed to draw 10,000.

Williams, who has the deepest pockets this side of Memphis Mad Dogs owner Fred Smith, estimates his losses at $10 million.

While we're charting deficit spending, consider that Baltimore, easily the most successful U.S. team on and off the field, ex

pects to lose about $1 million this year. Memphis estimates its losses at $3 million, Shreveport at $3 million, San Antonio at $4 million.

That's five American teams in the red by a combined $21 million.

Now, get past the math and look at the game of hopscotch CFL expansion has become.

Baltimore owner Jim Speros, after initially saying he would leave town if the NFL returned, later said he might try to co-exist with the NFL. That won't happen, and Speros already is looking at other options.

He spent two days this week in Houston talking with city officials and potential investors about moving the Stallions there, since the NFL Oilers are expected to bolt for Nashville, Tenn. Speros also is interested in Miami; Orlando, Fla.; Columbus, Ohio; Portland, Ore.; and Norfolk, Va.

After two disastrous seasons at the gate, the Shreveport Pirates are ready to leave northwestern Louisiana for Norfolk, where owner Bernie Glieberman is about to launch a season ticket drive.

San Antonio, which now looks like the picture of stability, $4 million loss and all, moved there last May after two rough years in Sacramento. And don't forget the CFL's embarrassing, one-year Las Vegas experiment in 1994.

CFL commissioner Larry Smith has tried to play spin doctor. He talked about Grey Cup fever in Saskatchewan, where a sellout and financial windfall are anticipated. He talked up gains in Canadian attendance and TV ratings.

He also hinted at an impending decision on U.S. teams.

"We've established ourselves as a presence [in the United States]. We have not established ourselves as a permanent player," Smith said. "The CFL will survive. I don't know what format the CFL will survive in. We have a fallback position. In the worst-case scenario, we could revert back to our Canadian roots."

The events of the past week have done little to improve the minor-league image that the CFL would like to shake. The instability throws into question how soon the 1996 schedule will be released. It cannot help the league as it pursues a major television contract. And money keeps going down the drain.

Archer on target

San Antonio quarterback Dave Archer is a huge reason the Texans are challenging Baltimore for a Grey Cup berth. Despite missing four games with a hamstring injury, Archer finished as the CFL's top-rated passer with 4,471 yards, 30 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. He had led the Texans to nine victories in their last 10 games. His stats from those 10 games:

Date ..... Opponent ... Score .. Att. .. Com. .. Yds. .. TDs .. Int.

Aug. 26 .. Memphis .... 28-6 .... 22 .... 12 ... 258 .... 0 .... 0

Sept. 4 .. Toronto .... 48-27 ... 32 .... 19 ... 383 .... 3 .... 1

Sept. 16.. Toronto .... 42-21 ... 25 .... 16 ... 250 .... 2 .... 0 Sept. 23.. Hamilton ... 42-7 .... 31 .... 17 ... 186 .... 2 .... 1

Sept. 30.. Ottawa ..... 49-14 ... 33 .... 21 ... 345 .... 4 .... 1

Oct. 8 .. Birmingham .. 28-38 ... 40 .... 23 ... 340 .... 1 .... 0

Oct. 12 .. Ottawa ..... 43-30 ... 29 .... 19 ... 288 .... 4 .... 0

Oct. 19 .. Shreveport.. 35-26 ... 29 .... 20 ... 346 .... 3 .... 1

Oct. 29 .. Birmingham.. 48-42 ... 32 .... 21 ... 427 .... 2 .... 0

Nov. 5 ... Birmingham.. 52-9 .... 24 .... 14 ... 309 .... 3 .... 0

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