‘That is nonsense’: Steve Simmons debunks ‘illogical’ rumour that East Final will be last CFL game in Toronto

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The Toronto Argonauts are headed towards a strong showing at the East Final on Sunday, but even ahead of their biggest game of the season, the organization can’t quite shake the doomsayers.

Earlier this week, freelancer Damien Cox published an opinion piece in the Toronto Star speculating that the East Final might be the last CFL game played in Toronto, with a fed up MLSE looking to sell, fold the team or get in bed with the upstart XFL.

Joining Game Play on TSN 1050 in Toronto on Thursday, longtime Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons was having none of that conversation.

“That is nonsense,” he said, cutting off the question.

According to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame journalist, those rumours are nothing short of inflammatory conjecture. While their is little doubt that the Argos are currently a losing business — more than $12 million annually in the red according to Cox — and that attendance has struggled to top 10,000 this season, Simmons believes the idea that is putting any sort of strain on their owners is ludicrous.

“Look where the Argos are, never mind how many fans they draw. Number one, they’re owned by MLSE. MLSE’s losses on the Argos are like lunch money for you and I. They’re substantial, but they’re not huge,” he insisted.

“MLSE paid Alonzo Mourning when he was at the Raptors, they paid him $9 million not to show up in Toronto. Basically, go away and we’ll give you 9 million. Over the years they’ve been paying Brian Burke and Ron Wilson and this guy and that guy all this money. So the Argos are pocket change for them when you look at the big picture.”

While MLSE was reportedly one of the driving forces behind the CFL’s talks with the XFL last offseason, the prospect of them joining the league solo simply doesn’t pass the smell test. Folding the team would make even less sense, for more personal than financial reasons.

“Start with this, facts that seem to get ignored. Dale Lastman from MLSE,  Larry Tanenbaum’s right-hand man and lawyer, is chairman of the board of the CFL. Dale’s best friend, or one of his two or three best friends, is Gary Stern, owner of the Montreal Alouettes, who he talked into buying the Montreal Alouettes,” Simmons explained.

“How do you think it would look if Lastman, one year after talking Gary Stern into buying the Montreal Alouettes, said, ‘Oh, by the way, we’re pulling the plug on the Argos’?”

Simmons was quick to point out that North America’s oldest professional sports franchise still has a long road ahead to come close to relevancy in Canada’s biggest market, noting that their success will not hinge on the upcoming East Final any more than it did on Grey Cup wins in recent years.

But the idea that Sunday will be the last CFL game played in The Six, that deserves a special kind of derision.

“It’s illogical to me, just as illogical as the people who say the NFL is coming to Toronto. That’s not happening and the Argos aren’t leaving,” Simmons stressed. “This is like existential football at its absolute best and worst.”