Under Further Review – This week, we look at the CFL in crisis, the woebegone Whitecaps and Lions, and slow play on the PGA Tour.
CFL in Peril – How can you not be concerned about the future of the CFL? It really hit home this week that the CFL is in danger of “aging out.” I taped last week’s game between the Lions and the Tiger-Cats and while scanning through the game, I happened to pause the video on a shot of the stands. I took a close look and most of the fans in the stands were 60+. It was not a young crowd.
Where will the replacement fans come from when the diehards are gone? Millennials aren’t interested in the CFL. League-wide attendance and overall revenues are still a major concern. If it wasn’t for the outstanding coverage provided by TSN, the league may already be at the crisis point.
If you watch the league on a regular basis, you see poor play, poor officiating and poor attendance. There’s trouble in the three largest markets. The guy in charge now in Toronto, Bill Manning, took over as Argo President after they won the Grey Cup in 2017. The Argos are 4-and-20 since then. Poor management is evident in several markets. Where are the future CFL executives and coaches going to come from? Where are they being groomed? Quarterbacking across the league is average at best. It seems like the league is just fighting to survive with no long-term plan in place. Ticket prices in Vancouver are way out of whack. $85 for a decent seat at a CFL game is too much. Lower the price, get bums in seats and figure out how to engage a whole new generation of fans.
Swimming in Mediocrity – Can you remember a time in recent memory when Vancouver sports teams were in worse shape? It’s been painful being a Vancouver sports fan. The Canucks have missed the playoffs for four straight seasons but on Friday, it was reported they have rewarded General Manager Jim Benning with a two-year contract extension. Benning’s contract status had the potential to be a major distraction this season. He was heading into the final year of his deal and if the Canucks were to struggle, it would have been a constant media focus. The Canucks continue to operate without a club president and have an ever-shrinking front office and that’s on ownership.
The Whitecaps, who have been the epitome of mediocre, have removed franchise icon Bob Lenarduzzi as Club President and announced they are going to conduct a worldwide search for a sporting director who “will lead the technical direction of the club at all levels.” Hopefully this person will be able to identify players who can actually kick a ball into a very large net because the team’s recent player acquisitions have been nothing short of abysmal. I’m told that former coach Carl Robinson had a relationship with only one major agent so every player move made during his tenure was funneled through the same source. You would hope the new guy will have a broader network.
The Whitecaps have directed huge resources into their residency program which is laudable, but it’s produced little tangible results on the pitch. Lenarduzzi steps aside graciously and will no longer be the whipping boy for all that ails the team. There needs to be some accountability on the football side before the Whitecaps can ever hope to challenge for an MLS championship.
The Lions, meanwhile, are fast becoming a three-ring circus. They are riding a five-game losing streak and are dead last in the CFL at 1-and-8. Rookie head coach DaVone Claybrooks seems to have no clue and appears totally in over his head. The 1-and-8 mark is the worst start in Lions history.
The numbers speak for themselves. The defense is giving up the most points in the league (34.5) and has surrendered the most touchdowns (33). The Lions have given up the most sacks in the league (36) and have registered the fewest (10). Can’t block. Can’t protect the quarterback. Can’t handle the Blitz. Nice trifecta! The Bombers had a clear path to the quarterback every time they blitzed and brought extra pressure. It was painful to watch. Mike Reilly was under siege and was sacked seven times. There should have been a mercy rule.
After Reilly, two of the Lions highest paid players are giving them nothing. Odell Willis, the team’s top pass rusher, has zero sacks on the season. The much-ballyhooed Duron Carter, a cancer in Montreal and Saskatchewan, has been a monumental bust. Carter has 6 catches for 58 yards in the last three games. On the season, he has 37 catches on 60 targets for 328 yards and a measly 8.9 yard average. Carter is still looking for his first touchdown as a Lion and has done nothing to move the needle. This was a highly questionable signing and if General Manager Ed Hervey wants to make a statement, he would cut Willis and Carter on Monday and start the roster surgery immediately. Why wait when you are 1-and-8?
On Thursday night, the Lions watched former star running back Andrew Harris become the CFL’s all-time leader in yards from scrimmage by a Canadian (13,377) surpassing Montreal’s Ben Cahoon. On the other side of the football for the Bombers was linebacker Adam Bighill who was last year’s CFL Defensive Player of the Year. Former Lions are scattered all over the league including another Winnipeg star in Winston Rose who leads the league in interceptions. In the case of Harris and Bighill, the Leos simply wouldn’t buck up and watched two great talents and two solid citizens walk away for nothing.
So back we come to ownership. Lions owner David Braley is 78 years old and nowhere to be found. He’s owned the team since 1997 and it’s time for him to pass the torch. If new local ownership is not found soon, there is no way this ship gets turned around. The Lions need change from the ownership right on down. The fans are not engaged, the product sucks and you have what is essentially an absentee owner. This mess may take years to clean up.
Two Minute Drill – The issue of slow play on the PGA Tour came to a head again this week. Video of Bryson Dechambeau taking two minutes to line up a putt went viral yet the Tour seems tone deaf to taking any action. Check it out for yourself!
Of course, Dechambeau missed the putt. He also took over three minutes to play a 70-yard pitch shot, walking all the way to the hole and back before hitting his shot. Dechambeau claimed he’s not really that slow because he walks quickly between his shots. He was a physics major in college but I don’t get that math!
In the wake of this week’s controversy, the PGA Tour announced it is looking at reviewing its pace-of-play policy. The Tour has been on the clock for figuring out this for ages. The last player to be docked a stroke for slow play was Glen “All” Day back in 1994, 24 years ago.
Out of the Woods – Tiger Woods will have to scramble this weekend if he hopes to make it to the Tour Championship next week in Atlanta. Woods is T48 heading into the weekend at the BMW Championship at Medinah after a pair of 71’s. Tiger has played in only five events since winning the Masters including missed cuts at the PGA and the Open Championship. He needs to finish 11th or better to punch his ticket to East Lake where he is the defending champion. Tiger certainly has his work cut out for him if he wants to make the 30-man field next week.
Meantime, good on the Canadian boys for a great start this weekend. Adam Hadwin and Corey Conners are T5 at Medinah. Conners came into the week 27th on the FedEx Cup list with an excellent chance to qualify for the Tour Championship. Hadwin was sitting at 48th and will need a big performance this weekend.
For both players, making it to the Tour Championship comes with a lot of extras including a piece of the $60 million FedEx Cup bonus pool. The winner earns $15 million while the runner-up pockets $5 million. Even 30th spot earns a decent $395,000 payday. But there’s more. Players get exemptions into three of the four major championships as well as all the World Golf Championship events. The two Canadians are also vying for a spot on the International Team for the Presidents Cup this December in Australia. Conners is 17th while Hadwin sits 18th in the Presidents Cup standings so strong finishes to the season will improve their chances significantly.
Jays in Flight – Bo Bichette failed to get on base on Friday night for the first time in his young career, ending his remarkable rookie streak. Bichette reached base in 17 straight games to start his Blue Jay career, tying Bill Russell’s 1969 mark for a player 21 and under. His 16 extra base hits through 17 games is a record. His 27 hits in his first 16 games is the most since the 30 posted by Joe DiMaggio in 1936.
Another Jay who deserves a ton of credit is Lourdes Gurriel Jr. who’s currently on the disabled list. Back on April 14, Gurriel was dispatched to Triple-A Buffalo with a .175 batting average and a case of the yips at second base. He played a total of 31 games in Buffalo and not only regained his batting stroke, he found a new home in the outfield. The Blue Jays made the decision to convert Gurriel Jr. to left field on May 5. He worked diligently with former Blue Jay Devon White. Gurriel returned to Toronto on May 24 and immediately took ownership of left field. Before going on the DL, he had nine outfield assists which ranks 4th in baseball despite playing far fewer innings in the outfield. He also became the youngest Jay ever to reach the 30 home run mark. Gurriel was signed out of Cuba in 2016 to a seven-year, $22 million dollar contract. That deal looks like a steal now.
Size Matters – For the first time in what seems like, yes, forever, the Seahawks finally have some size in their receiving corps. Rookie DK Metcalf checks in at 6’3”. Jazz Ferguson is 6’5”. Jaron Brown is 6’4”. This is an ultra-competitive position group. The Seahawks are likely going to keep six receivers so it will be interesting to see who is the odd-man out especially if they want to keep one or both of this year’s draftees Gary Jennings and John Ursua.
Thanks to this year’s bumper crop of rookies, the Seahawks are going to have to cut some very productive players. The situation is similar to 2013 when Seattle started to break through to Super Bowl contention. It would not be surprising to see 10-to-12 Seahawks picked up by other teams when final cuts are made. Just look at some of the names who may be made available – Lano Hill, Naz Jones, CJ Prosise, Paxton Lynch, Geno Smith, Keenan Reynolds, Amara Darboh, Malik Turner, Ed Dickson, DeShawn Shead, Akeem King, Kalan Reed, David Moore, Shaquem Griffin, Austin Calitro. All of those guys are fighting for survival. Scouts will be following the Seahawks closely during the exhibition season, you can be sure of that.
Bianca Breakthrough – Rising tennis star Bianca Andreescu has to be considered at least an outside favorite to win the upcoming US Open. In beating Serena Williams to win the Rogers Cup, Andreescu knocked off a top 10 player for the first time in her young career. Up until that match, she had still not played Serena or Simona Halep or Ashleigh Barty.
When Andreescu upended Genie Bouchard at the Rogers Cup, it was the biggest match between two Canadian women in decades. You have to go all the way back to Helen Kelesi beating Carling Bassett at Hilton Head in 1986, 33 years ago, to find a match of any significant involving two Canadian women.
Short Strokes – While you may think the Blue Jays are among the top four or five teams in MLB based on market size, when you take into account the slumping Canadian dollar, they probably rank further down the list. That’s not to make an excuse for not spending but it does affect their annual budget in a big way.
The Boston Red Sox scored a MLB-leading 876 runs last year and won 108 games and the World Series. This year, they are on pace to score 50 more runs than last year, yet projected to win only 84 games. Why? Pitching of course. The Red Sox were third in the league last year with an ERA of 3.75. This year, they are giving up more than one more run per game (4.78 ERA). You can overcome a mediocre offence with good pitching but you cannot overcome mediocre pitching with a dominant offence.
How bad are the Baltimore Orioles? The Yankees have beaten the O’s 17 straight times.
The Seattle Mariners were beaten this week by the much-traveled Edwin Jackson who made a cameo this year with the Blue Jays. Jackson is now with the Tigers and has played on a MLB-record 15 teams during his nomadic career.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are in tough in the ultra-competitive AFC South. The Jags added Nick Foles during the off-season in the hope of solving their quarterback woes. Foles is replacing the underachieving Blake Bortles and they are banking he can lift them back to the AFC Championship game along with a stout defense. That division produced two AFC playoff teams last year in Indianapolis and Houston while Tennessee was 9-and-7.
The Flames took a huge blow with word that last year’s outstanding rookie defenseman Juuso Valimaki tore his ACL during training and is likely to miss all or most of the season. You have to wonder if the Flames won’t take a step back this season with unproven goaltending in David Rittich and Cam Talbot. Few liked the acquisition of Milan Lucic so it would not be surprising to see the Flames scrambling for a playoff spot this year.
Swiss Movement – We leave you this week with a live performance from 2007 in Switzerland featuring two great guitar players – Larry Carlton and Robben Ford.