CFL commissioner buoyed by popularity of league

Mark Cohon was in Kelowna Thursday to speak at Okanagan Sun scholarship dinner.

CFL commissioner Mark Cohon.

CFL commissioner Mark Cohon.

The commissioner of the Canadian Football League says the success of the league is, in part, dependent on the success of junior football in this country.

A buoyant Mark Cohon met with reporters in Kelowna Thursday, ahead of his appearance at a scholarship dinner for the Okanagan Sun later that night, and said the CFL is very supportive of junior football in this country because it can produce great Canadian talent.

In recent years, B.C. Football Conference stars like Andrew Harris and Steven Doege have made it to the CFL—both now with the B.C. Lions.

Cohon said if the league is to continue to grow, it needs to not only attract good young Canadian players but also more young Canadian fans.

“It’s not the league of the past where the talk was about franchises in trouble,” said Cohon.

“Now the question I get asked is where are you going to expand to next?”

For the record, the area the league is eyeing for expansion—once Ottawa re-enters the CFL next season—is Atlantic Canada. But while Moncton has hosted CFL games dubbed Touchdown Atlantic in recent years, Cohon said if, and when, a franchise is located there it will likely be in Halifax because it has the population base and potential for a suitably-sized stadium.

But, he cautioned, such a move could be as much as 10 years off given the work involved.

Meantime, Cohon  said he is happy with the strides the league has made on and off the field and pointed to what he called strong ownership of the nine teams currently in the CFL and the new ownership team in Ottawa. “We have seen corporate Canada get on board with us and municipal governments partnering in new stadiums,” said the commissioner.

One of Cohon’s proudest achievements of his seven years in office, he said, was last year’s 100th Grey Cup celebration in Toronto.

“That was our Olympics,” said Cohon, pointing to the pride Canadians are now feeling and expressing in the league.

Other highlights include the imminent return of the CFL to Ottawa in a refurbished Landsdowne Park stadium and the new television deal.

It’s a long way from when he took over as commissioner in 2006 when the league’s slogan was: “Our balls are bigger,” a double-entendre reference to the then size of the football used by the CFL as opposed to the smaller one used by the NFL.