NEWS
03/01/2012 06:46 EST | Updated 05/01/2012 05:12 EDT

No shortage of projects to keep CFL commissioner Mark Cohon very busy

TORONTO - Mark Cohon's second tour of duty as CFL commissioner looks to be a busy one.

Last month, Cohon signed a three-year extension to continue on the job he assumed in 2007 when he succeeded Tom Wright. Cohon has helped bring stability to the league but there is plenty more to do.

This year's Grey Cup at Toronto's Rogers Centre marks the 100th anniversary of the CFL's championship game. Once that's done, there will be negotiations on a new television deal — the present one with TSN expires after the 2013 season.

And in 2014, Cohon hopes the league will be back in Ottawa with an expansion franchise kicking off its return in a new Frank Clair Stadium.

The 45-year-old Cohon says he still loves the challenge.

"It's work that in the end you know you're really making an impact, a difference, not even just for the teams and the players but also the country," Cohon said in an interview. "And that's when you wake up and say, 'Hey, I have a job that really matters,' and that's why I like it.''

And if Cohon has his way, the league will continue to go about its business without much off-field fanfare during the next three years.

Cohon has tried to emphasize the on-field product while keeping the league's problems behind the boardroom doors and out of the media. He says others have bought into his philosophy.

"You can't manage (your way) to unanimity because if you try to do that you're never going to get anything done," he said. "You have to go to where you feel you're showing leadership and have a conviction where you want to go and if the majority agrees you can get things accomplished.

"But I think you see a board now that's really working well together and people are on the same page. That, I think, is the difference now in the CFL.''

Stories about boardroom unrest — once the norm in the CFL — are few and far between now.

And the league is looking a little glossier in B.C. with the refurbishing of B.C. Place last year. This year Winnipeg will unveil a new home stadium.

At season's end, construction will begin on a new, improved facility in Hamilton with a new stadium expected soon for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

And Cohon hopes Ottawa — as the league’s ninth franchise by 2014 — will be playing in a new facility in the Canadian capital.

Last season, the CFL boasted an average attendance of 28,000 fans per game, a comprehensive drug policy that included testing for human growth hormone and what Cohon said in November during his Grey Cup address were “record levels” of corporate partnerships.

However, Cohon also admitted the league's TV ratings, often a source of pride for the commissioner, dipped in 2011.

A longstanding concern for Cohon and the CFL has been the league's southern Ontario franchises in Hamilton and Toronto, both of which continue to struggle. In Vancouver, Cohon announced the league would give both Ticats and Argos $500,000 each to invest in marketing and minor football.

Cohon says the 100th Grey Cup celebration has already created positive momentum for the Argos in Toronto and will continue to do so throughout the 2012 season.

He notes both Ontario clubs have been busy this off-season hiring new coaches (Scott Milanovich in Toronto, George Cortez in Hamilton) and acquiring big-name quarterbacks. The Argos landed Ricky Ray from the Edmonton Eskimos while the Ticats obtained veteran Henry Burris from Calgary, moves Cohon believes will help attract interest in both markets.

"I think we have a great opportunity here," Cohon said. "Both teams, when you think about what they've done on the field, have created some excitement and the two quarterbacks have made The Battle of Alberta into The Battle of Ontario.''

However, not everyone shares Cohon's enthusiasm.

Some western media have suggested the CFL was behind Toronto's acquisition of Ray as a form of payback to owner David Braley for purchasing the troubled Argos.

The suggestion was Toronto needed a No. 1 quarterback in a Grey Cup year and the Eskimos took one for the team and gave up Ray.

All of which caused Cohon, the son of McDonald's of Canada founder George Cohon, to chuckle out loud.

"It's all just people having fun,'' Cohon said. "At the end of the day, I just approve the trades in my office.

"We don't initiate them.''

Then again, Ray and the Argos could also be in the market for a new home if the Toronto Blue Jays go ahead with plans to replace artificial turf with real grass at Rogers Centre. That would create huge issues in being able to reconfigure the field for football.

Another issue, too, could be Cohon's long-term future. When Cohon signed his extension there were suggestions the deal would be his last and that he'd be leaving the CFL once his contract expires.

Such talk, Cohon says, is very premature.

"There's nothing to say that at the end of the three years I won't want to continue," he said. "We'll have to see what happens in three years.''