“I promise you.”
CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said that phrase four times during the first state-of-the-league address of his tenure and that key word –“promise” – is perhaps the best way to describe the first five months of his tenure.
Ambrosie showed some signs of nervousness when facing a room full of media, a moderate departure from his usual friendly, down-to-earth style. He started with a photo and a joke – “I thought I’d take a selfie of us while we still like each other” – but quickly devolved into the same corporate speak that has been commonplace at these events.
A former player who has enjoyed a successful post-football career in the financial services industry, he wasn’t a train wreck in the mould of Jeffery Orridge – his two state-of-the-leagues were beyond atrocious – but he was less forthright than we’ve come to expect.
The issue of concussions – where Orridge made all the wrong headlines a year ago by denying a link between football and brain diseases like CTE – continues to bedevil the CFL’s top executive. Ambrosie took the line designed to minimize the league’s legal exposure, one that further stretches the limits of credulity with each passing day.
“We’re going to be looking for innovation in safety and health but the science isn’t clear which all that tells us is we have to keep working with science,” he said. “We can’t abandon this process now.”
His case was more theatrical than compelling: he pulled out a thick red file folder full of, it was implied, important research. He talked about a recent medical conference in Bonn. He told Alouettes receiver Nik Lewis, in town doing media work, that they’d continue working on the issue. Promised him.
Ambrosie was, however, far more forthright on other issues. He acknowledged the challenges the league is facing with the officiating, which has been hurt by some high-profile errors that have impacted the outcome of games (cut to Ticats’ fans nodding grimly.)
“I’ve said many times we have to revisit the command centre question. As it stands today, it was designed to correct egregious errors. It was not as currently formatted designed to make the perfect call,” Ambrosie said. “If you’re going to go to the command centre, what I’m hearing from fans is they want us to make the perfect call.”
That populist approach was also applied to issues like Halifax expansion – he was cautiously optimistic – and scheduling, with Ambrosie stating he’d be in favour of moving up the start of the season. That move will likely be popular with frigid fans on Sunday.
“Imagine playing our Grey Cup let’s just say the third week of October when it’s beautiful everywhere and you don’t have to wear 900 layers of clothing and you don’t have to go get your winter boots out,” he said.
And what of a Hamilton Grey Cup? The city hasn’t hosted the league’s signature event since 1996 and this week’s affair in Ottawa is likely to remind Ticat fans who made the trip just what they’re missing: after last year’s Toronto disaster, the Nation’s Capital is doing it up right.
“The process for the decision on 2019 and beyond is one that I haven’t entered into at all,” Ambrosie said. “Business season starts Monday so maybe if you call me in three weeks I might have a better insight than that.”
Yeah, we’ve heard that one before.
It is, of course, still very early in his open-ended tenure and Ambrosie has earned some well-deserved points for making swift and prudent decisions on pressing issues – fixing the replay challenge system, for example. Friday’s performance demonstrated that he has a grasp of the issues, that he understands the challenges and that’s a decent start.
At some point, Randy Ambrosie will have to deliver.
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