A new sheriff in town – a new CFL commissioner

A new sheriff in town – a new CFL commissioner

A fundamental question in our everyday lives is, what is the right thing to do? If we were to broaden that question out socially we may get to the core question of political philosophy, what should we as a society do? One example comes from the utilitarian view that the right thing to do is the one that achieves the best consequences for society.

What has this to do with football? Football is routinely called the ultimate team game and an association of teams into a league, like the CFL is an enclosed society. That enclosed society has elected a new leader recently and we must ask will the appointment achieve the best possible consequences for the CFL as a society – of fans, players and interested parties alike?

The CFL have announced their new commissioner, former player and successful businessman Randy Ambrosie. He replaces former Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge, a Harvard Law School graduate who lasted only 2 years in the role and invoked a broad spectrum of responses from the positive to the negative from across the sports fan base.

It seems the CFL has some confidence in this appointment as Ambrosie has an open-ended contract, a move which as far as I know is a first for the league. Unlike Orridge who only made it to two seasons of his initial three-year deal, there is no term on Ambrosie’s deal.

The role of Commissioner in the CFL is possibly akin to herding cats. They have to please the fan base, they have to work with the media, they have to raise the league’s profile and they can find themselves with many bosses on the board of governors each with their own individual agenda. It cannot be easy managing all of those strands at once. Achieving a Benthamite greatest happiness of the greatest number will always be a difficult but surely worthwhile aim.

That the governors have chosen such a passionate CFL advocate is surely deliberate, contrasting directly with Orridge, who was an accomplished executive but who made an abrupt departure after just two years citing “differences” with the board, and it seems clear that in Ambrosie the governors elected to choose someone who sees the CFL’s unique elements as a feature, not a problem to be overcome. “I’m part of this game,” Ambrosie is quoted as saying in the Toronto Sun, adding, “It’s wrapped into my DNA.”

He’s not wrong there either.  As a Canadian and former player he understands the nuances of the CFL. He appeared for Calgary, Toronto and Edmonton as well as going on post retirement to be a successful businessman. That CFL playing experience and time as a former secretary of the Canadian Football League Players Association (CFLPA) means he has a certain insiders’ understanding of the game which fans already appear to appreciate in their new commissioner.

Ambrosie has a big transformation to achieve. The 54-year-old Winnipeg native has to try and achieve league growth, expand the fan base, help make the Toronto Argonauts matter in their market and work with the CFL Players’ Association on how best to treat and reduce concussions.

The CFLPA were quick in ‘welcoming’ Ambrosie to the role by e-mailing a statement that outlined what needed to be addressed in the current collective agreement with the league. “CFL teams are only required to give injured players 12 months of rehabilitation after an injury,” CFLPA president Jeff Keeping said in the statement adding it was “insufficient time to deal with some serious injuries that can require more time for complete recuperation.”

Ambrosie says he is neither a scientist or a doctor but has insisted player safety will be an important issue in his time in office. The two years he served as secretary of the CFLPA will give him a level of credibility with the players few of his predecessors were lucky enough to begin with.

As you’d expect when starting out in his tenure, Ambrosie has been setting a very positive tone. Interviewed on cfl.ca he said, “My professional life has been marked by my passion for Canadian football and my passion for building businesses. It’s a dream come true to be able to combine these on behalf of the CFL, which means so much to so many Canadians.” The Indian musician A R Rahman noted ‘Success comes to those who dedicate everything to their passion in life’. If Ambrosie is as passionate as he sounds about the CFL this can only be a good sign.

Perhaps even more tellingly Ambrosie finished by saying, “I know from experience that football is the ultimate team sport…I’m confident that by working together, we can ensure this great league reaches its full potential. Let’s get to work.” That is the kind of positivity and confidence we would like to see from our commissioner I think. As Samuel Johnson said, ‘Self-confidence is the first requisite to great undertakings’, so let us hope that Ambrosie’s ambitions and confidence translate into great undertakings for the league.

It is going to be interesting for CFL fans to see how the new commissioner gets on  and watching the challenges unfold. Whatever happens, Ambrosie won’t be able to please all of the people all of the time but if he can reach out to the greatest number of existing and potential new fans in a positive way that will be the greatest consequence of his appointment by the CFL.

Chris Lawton

Chris Lawton joined the NFLGirlUK.com team in 2017 and has been writing about the CFL ever since. He originally started following the NFL with the 'first wave' of fans when it was shown on Channel 4 in the 1980's. He has been a keen supporter of the Miami Dolphins since 1983. Chris first encountered the CFL in 2016 and instantly fell in love with the Canadian game. He has been writing about the CFL from the inception of Ninety-Nine Yards. You can find him on twitter as @CFLfanUK

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