Former TSN reporter Gary Lawless: ‘Enormously disappointed in the leadership of the CFL’

Photo courtesy: TSN

Former TSN CFL insider Gary Lawless popped off with a scathing rant on the league’s cancelled 2020 season.

Lawless joined The Rod Pedersen Show to break down the NHL’s Las Vegas Golden Knights, the team who currently employs him, but he ended his appearance by letting it all out about the CFL’s lack of games this year.

“I’m enormously disappointed in the leadership of the league. I would put that on the ownership level and I would put that at the head office level. This was an opportunity for this league to get together, to be creative and find a way to play some games to draw attention to the league,” Lawless began.

“There’s no college football, we don’t know what’s going to happen in the NFL. The NHL has grabbed the attention of so many people and has done such a good job. Wade Miller put together a plan in Winnipeg to have a bubble that Health Canada was prepared to sign off on and for $30 million they let this opportunity pass them by.”

The CFL decided to cancel its season last week after the federal government said no to a $30 million interest-free loan which the league wanted on their own terms. Lawless believes the whole process was flawed and short-sighted.

“The way they asked for it doesn’t make any sense to me at all. They had no plan originally. Where was the creativity?” Lawless asked with bewilderment.

“Where was Randy Ambrosie going to the owners of the Toronto Argonauts, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, their part owners at Rogers and their partners at TSN and saying: ‘We know the rights are with TSN, we are in trouble and this is an opportunity to put some games on both networks and create a whole bunch of shoulder programming while we are in the bubble’.”

The CFL’s strategy should have been clear-cut in Lawless’ eyes: play at all costs.

“Let’s sit down here, like Gary Bettman did with Don Fehr, and let’s get a new collective bargaining agreement. Lets for six months take over sports broadcasting in Canada. Let’s go to ESPN, who’s not going to have any college football. Let’s play on Saturdays and find a way to get more eyeballs on our league than ever before. $30 million? You’d pay $100 million for that!”

Lawless also takes serious issue with some of the decisions made by the league since the cancellation, in particular the furloughing of noted league writer Chris O’Leary on Tuesday. O’Leary was among a number of head office employees shown the door after the 2020 season was put on ice and received an outpouring of support from fans on Twitter.

“What’s the plan here? To mothball the league? Who’s going to be talking about the Canadian Football League next year if the guy who writes about the league on the league website isn’t doing it?” Lawless asked rhetorically.

“I’m telling you there aren’t going to be any articles in the Toronto Star or the Globe and Mail or the National Post. They’ll be few and far between in the newspapers in Winnipeg. Maybe they’ll get some love in Regina. Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, all turned off.”

He believes a fundamental shift in the way the league is managed is needed as the result of what he sees as incompetent ownership.

“Dave Naylor said to me the other day that he really believes they have to go to a single entity ownership plan and I’m not sure he’s wrong, because some of the guys at the boardroom level have no business owning a Canadian Football League team,” Lawless said.

“This is thoroughly disappointing to me. You are talking about an opportunity to grow your brand, to grow your league. You talk about not wanting to have just retirees as fans and you have to have 18-year-olds as fans. Well, the 18-year-olds in Toronto are going to be looking for something to watch on Saturday afternoons this fall when Ohio State-Notre Dame isn’t on the television, and the CFL had an opportunity to walk through that door. After years of neglect in those big Ontario markets this was an opportunity to show your product off and instead nothing. Nothing. It’s a shame.”

Lawless’ criticism may be harsh, but he’s not alone in his beliefs that the CFL bungled the coronavirus crisis and needs vast reforms to the way it is run. Even from the sun of the Nevada desert, Lawless’ passion for the league is evident.

“You know I love this league. I’ve covered it since 1993 when I got into the newspaper business. Worked for the Argos and proudly have a Grey Cup ring in my house,” Lawless said in a softer moment.

“I have all kinds of paraphernalia and merch in my house. My daughter loves the league and one of the highlights of our summer last year was going to a Blue Bomber game at Investors Group Field.”

Now working away from the CFL, Lawless’ voice is that of a deeply concerned fan hoping that the league he loves can get its act together and be worthy of that affection.