Inside the CFL: What now for Tiger-Cats?
Hamilton, ON (Sports Network) - The news spread like wildfire and caused visceral reactions throughout the city.
Last August, negotiations began between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and McMaster University. The hope was to reach an agreement that would see the CFL team play at least five games at Ron Joyce Stadium in the 2013 season, while a new Ivor Wynne Stadium is built for the 2015 Pan Am Games.
Those negotiations came to a screeching halt last Thursday when the university informed the Tiger-Cats they couldn't play any of their games on the Mac campus.
"A number of people thought, we have a stadium here, therefore it would work to have the Tiger-Cats here," Andrea Farquhar, McMaster's assistant vice president of public and government relations told AM900 CHML. "But, our stadium only has 5,500 seats, and to accommodate the Tiger-Cats, that number would have to increase to at least 15,000. We've had to take a look at the impact to our campus.
So, when the Tiger-Cats came to us with the idea, we said we need some time to work through what this would mean on campus and to consult with students, neighbors and Hamilton Health Sciences. We have our Children's Hospital on campus, as well as parking and security, to better understand what the implications would be."
Farquhar noted, the west-end Hamilton complex doesn't shut down between May and September.
"Not everyone realizes that our campus is a busy place in the summer," she said. "We have about 10,000 students that attend classes in the summer, we have about 5,000 children that come to camp here, we host dozens of conferences, which might have hundreds of delegates at each conference. This is a very busy place, so squeezing in 15,000 fans would be very difficult."
The news was upsetting enough for the Tiger-Cats, but they also weren't pleased with the way the news was delivered.
"We've had nothing but very positive discussions," Tiger-Cats president Scott Mitchell said. "The plan around it had been clear to everyone for six months, and we never heard anything about the possibility of it not happening. We were working through the economics that we were taking 100 percent of the risk on. So it was very surprising to get a phone call that they were not going to be interested in hosting games."
Farquhar begged to differ. "A phone call is a great way to communicate," she said. "You can talk directly with somebody. We've had a good long-term relationship with the Tiger-Cats. We host training camp, our students go to games, we have promotional events on campus, so we have a good back-and-forth with them, and a phone call is a natural extension of that. I'm sure there's some disappointment that this wasn't going to work."
That's putting it mildly. "They weren't under any obligation to host the games," Mitchell said. "It was a proposal that we had both entered into for a number of different reasons. We both wanted to keep the Tiger-Cats in town, and McMaster was the best option. We've taken all the risks, we've allocated a very large amount of money for a bursary for the McMaster athletic program, and clearly that didn't overcome the issues or the concerns that they have."
Farquhar said one of those issues could be a matter of life or death.
"When we talk about things like the hospital, people have to understand the amount of traffic coming in on Main Street," Farquhar said. "We're a land- locked campus, there's only a couple of ways in here. Main Street is the main access to West Hamilton. And, it's the main access to the Children's Hospital. So, we were getting concerns from them that it could slow down ambulances and patients getting into the hospital."
That was news to Mitchell.
"That's the first we've heard of that," he said. "Clearly, we'd be very concerned if that was the case, but that was never discussed with us."
The Tiger-Cats have held training camp at McMaster every year since 2004. With residences, food and facility rentals, it costs the Tiger-Cats over $200,000 to hold their camp there.
Which begs the question: Has the decision damaged relationships between the two parties?
Mitchell danced around the issue.
"Hamilton has benefited from having a world-class university and we're a professional football team," Mitchell said. "McMaster has a lot more important priorities. We understand that and we wish them the best."
So, what now?
Tiger-Cats owner Bob Young released a statement on the team's website:
"Our preferred solution was to play many of our 2013 home games in Hamilton at McMaster's Ron Joyce Stadium. Unfortunately, yesterday McMaster University officials concluded they will be unable to accommodate us.
"This was disappointing to us as our goal was to find a location as convenient to our fans as possible.
"The Tiger-Cats remain steadfast in our commitment to keep our home games as close to Hamilton as possible, and, fortunately, we have plenty of time to find a positive solution for our fans. We will continue to work on a resolution for next season and will fully communicate our plan once it is finalized in the coming months."
The Tiger-Cats are now in negotiations with Western University, in London, to possibly play some of their games at TD Waterhouse Stadium, which could be expanded from its current 10,000 seats to possibly 18,000.
Last November, the McMaster Marauders won the Vanier Cup, the national university football crown. The exposure the university received was immeasurable.
Here's hoping someone will show some leadership, get the two parties back in a room, lock the door and make sure no one leaves until an agreement is reached.
Otherwise, the stain that will be left in this city may be too big to erase.
Ted Michaels is the host of the Fifth Quarter on AM900 CHML.
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