With the United States Football League (USFL) set to begin its operations and with disappointing attendance figures at Canadian Football League games, there is considerable conjecture as to the future of the CFL. Commissioner Jake Gaudaur discussed the future of the league with Maclean’s correspondent Marty York in the Toronto offices of the CFL.
Maclean’s: What effect do you think the creation of the United States Football League will have on the CFL?
Gaudaur: We have seen other leagues start up in the United States, and, historically, in the early start-up years they would attract some of our players who had played out their option, and there is nothing you can do about that. This is happening already with the National Football League, but, in the case of some of those new leagues, they went beyond that and signed players who were under contract. When that happened we went to court and were successful, and we would do that with the USFL. I anticipate that we will lose some players that we would rather see stay. If, as in the past, the new league does not make it, most of those players wind up coming back in any event, and when I say this I am not suggesting that this
one won’t make it. I have no idea as to whether it will.
Maclean’s: Will CFL rosters be enlarged to prevent players from getting away to the new league?
Gaudaur: I don’t know. Every year rosters are on our meeting agendas, and every year, for as long as I can remember, some clubs have been in favor of a roster increase and some have been for a decrease. Some have wanted to keep the rosters the same. But, given the fact that rosters increased by four players to a total of 38 players last year, I think it
is highly improbable that there would be a great increase for that purpose. An increase of one or two, however, is always under consideration.
Maclean’s: How do you feel about the defections of Winnipeg Coach Ray Jauch, Edmonton Coach Hugh Campbell and Saskatchewan General Manager Jim Spavital to the new league? Gaudaur: I think you have to deal with those individually. As far as Ray Jauch is concerned, when I heard that, I immediately called the Winnipeg club and was told that, at the time Ray signed his current agreement, there was a clear understanding or provision that he was entitled to pursue employment elsewhere and accept it if he found something he wanted. So, in that case, I don’t
think that you can blame him for carrying out the option he had. As far as Jim Spavital is concerned, the Saskatchewan club felt it had no option but to let him go after he was approached. In that respect, I think that club was damaged. And I think that the Edmonton club has been damaged with the departure of Hugh Campbell. My advice to the clubs was that if a club of another league— whether it be the new league or the NFL—is interested in one of the club’s nonplaying personnel, the club should not automatically assume that it has no other option than to let him go. It is my view that the contract signed in good faith between two parties should be fulfilled by both parties. Still, I believe that the clubs must make the decision that is best for their fans.
Maclean’s: Do you find it understandable that football people want to play in their own country—in the case of American football personnel, for instance, who want to go to the United States? Gaudaur: Players want to play in their own country so they can be seen on television—so that a player’s home town, his parents, sisters or brothers, his girlfriend and his college home-town buddy can see him on TV. I have always said that this was one of the main reasons it was important for the CFL to be on TV in the United States. Since the CFL has now been exposed to millions of house-
holds in 49 U.S. states, that has been overcome to a considerable degree. At the same time, I think the clubs can now say to players, “You can be seen.” Insofar as the American money is concerned, it depends on whether a player is going to continue to live in Canada in
the off-season. It’s all relative. Maclean’s: Is the depressed Canadian economy affecting the CFL?
Gaudaur: It’s very difficult to judge, but I think it would be obvious that, in a climate where there have been a lot of layoffs, in a city like Hamilton, for instance, it has clearly impacted. Yet the fact that CFL attendance on the whole is so close to last year’s, even after the 15th weekend, demonstrates that the quality of play may have been enough to offset the effect of Canada’s recessed economy. At the same time, it is difficult for anybody to project accurately what the impact will be. When the economy is down and people are having difficulties, they want to be entertained. You never see a drop in consumption of spirits or smoking, for instance. Maclean’s: Has there been a reduction of Canadian players at the skill positions? Gaudaur: Quarterback is the most skilled, I suppose, and the CFL has two Canadians playing there. Linebacker was always deemed to be a skill position, and you see lots of Canadians playing first string and beating out Americans there. Another skill position is that of receiver, and historically Canadians have excelled at this position. At the moment there appears to have been a resurgence in the use of “imports” in this position. Actually, the only difference between the Canadian
and the American is the degree to which he has been trained. The Americans are trained out of the cradle, so to speak, in high school and college, with individual coaches and what have you, so by the time an American player gets to the professional camp he has been through all that training. He is going to be better than the player who has been trained in Canada. But no one should disregard the fact that we still require that 19 out of 34 players dressed be Canadian, and that is not a limit—there is nothing to stop the coach from having 34 Canadians. Still, I think the gap is being narrowed because Canadians are now getting improved coaching at Canadian college levels.
Maclean’s: Your dream to have a coastto-coast league was realized when the Halifax CFL franchise was approved. Will this be a selling point for the CFL? Gaudaur: First of all, I would like to clarify: the Halifax club has been conditionally approved to commence in 1984 providing that, by the midway point next year, there is adequate visual evidence that a stadium will be available for ’84. It’s true I have always looked forward to the day when we could be coast to coast and truly national in concept. But having said that, I would never be in favor of granting a franchise for the sake of granting a franchise. The people behind the Halifax franchise are
very confident that it will be viable, and there is a very strong indication that it can be. One can question the population demographics, but one could also question those of the Saskatchewan club, operating in a city of 150,000 people. They have, for as long as I can remember,
been an outstanding partner in the league because they have involved the entire province.
Maclean’s: Does it bother you when you hear people-especially if they are Canadian—say that the NFL is better than the CFL?
Gaudaur: I have always felt that that’s a manifestation of our Canadian inferiority complex. In that context, I was once guilty of that myself, but the more you look at the quality of the game, the easier we can prove that, by the only guidelines I know—the entertainment statistics—ours is better. Let’s face it: realistically, people aren’t crazy about defence, except for the purists. I believe the quality of our style of play is better—we score more points and have more total offence. In the CFL there is a greater need for speed and agility than for size because of the size of our field and our different rules. Particularly in recent years, we have been able to attract players into the league with not only the agility but the size as well. Maclean’s: Is there any other event in Canada that unifies Canadians as much as the Grey Cup?
Gaudaur: I know it is deemed corny by some to refer to the Grey Cup as a prime factor in Canadian unity. But the game attracts people from all over Canada, as many from the West as from the East, in the spirit of friendly competition. I
know of nothing else that does that every year, and, furthermore, it is an event that is watched by some seven million people on television. So I think, in that sense, it would have an impact on our national unity.
Maclean’s: There is a lot of controversy about the way in which the Grey Cup participants are chosen. Should the eastern champion automatically play the western champion, or should the two best teams meet in the Grey Cup? Gaudaur: In my opinion, it is preferable that we pit the East against the West in a spirit of friendly competition. Maclean’s: Is illegal drug use a problem among the players in the CFL as is reported to be the case in the NFL? Gaudaur: It’s unrealistic to assume, in a society where there is drug abuse, that professional athletes would not be doing it. But any meaningful amount of drug abuse, in my opinion, would become manifest in the players’ ability to compete on a professional football team, where physical fitness is so important. If a player has a problem, the club should make counselling available as one remedy. But there is no evidence, from any player or from the players’ association, that there is an extensive problem in the league.
Maclean’s: Does the CFL have the means to ensure that the players are not alcoholics, drug users, gamblers or anything ofthat nature?
Gaudaur: There is no such measure, because it would, in effect, be spying on players when they are away from the field, and I’m opposed to that. The NFL has security people on staff, but it is my understanding that the security people are concerned mostly with players who may be involved in gambling. In the case of the CFL, we have established a liaison with the appropriate level of police authority in each community on the understanding that they can, without compromising any investigation, communicate with my office when they become aware that a player on a CFL club is involved in illegal activities. Maclean’s: Your contract as CFL commissioner expires at the end of the 1985 season. Do you intend to stay on after that time?
Gaudaur: No. I will not be prepared to carry on after the termination of my contract. I originally accepted this job for five years maximum. I have very strong feelings about people in professional sports or politics who stay on too long. Nor do I believe that the head of state or commissioner of a professional sports league should get very deeply involved in picking his successor—there is always a danger that you might favor casting that person in your own image. Maclean’s: Is it possible that you will wind up in the USFL?
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