CFL Report: August 30, 2007



It's about this Gass incident.


It smells.




A.J. Gass, middle linebacker for the Edmonton Eskimos, was suspended for a game by rookie commissioner Mark Cohon not long after the player yanked the helmet of an opposing player on Aug. 4 and fired it some 35 yards in a demonstration of anger.

Gass appealed the suspension, claiming his opponent, the Calgary Stampeders' John Comiskey, provoked the incident by grabbing his private parts.

Cohon couldn't see Gass's private parts—during video replays, that is — and so, in his first significant disciplinary decision as a commish, he laid down the law and banned Gass for a game.

A couple of days ago, however, an independent arbitrator overturned Cohon's decision and ruled that a suspension wasn't necessary at all for Gass. He'll play Monday against the Calgary Stampeders in the all-important, always-entertaining, all-Alberta Labour Day matchup. His only punishment: a small fine of $1,200.

Players have the right to appeal suspensions to arbitrators under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement with the CFL. But, jeez, I mean, heck, think about the precedent this sets.

This is a slap to the face of Cohon, no? How many commissioners ever get their decisions vetoed, let alone their very first decision?

Cohon, at this point, is perceived generally as a toothless commish.

This isn't good.

What's even worse, however, is that the arbitrator who got to de-suspend Gass happens to be a big fan of the Eskimos.

No joke.

He's a season-ticket holder to Edmonton games.

A great bit of digging by Edmonton Sun reporter Jonathan Huntington revealed that the arbitrator was Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice Allan Wachowich. The CFL and CFL Players Association agreed in advance that Wachowich could be the arbitrator. Wachowich told Huntington that he was an emergency choice.

"I was the only arbitrator that was available at the time," Wachowich was quoted as saying. "I was somewhat reluctant to hear this but on the record, all parties agreed that I could hear it.

"I don't like to hear Edmonton Eskimos' arbitrations - for an obvious reason. I live here (in Edmonton). I have watched the Eskimos since 1949 and I have been a season-ticket holder for all these years. But you know, I have an oath - I took an oath - that I will judge everything fairly and without any bias.

"They needed somebody. They had to do it quickly."

Over in CFL headquarters, folks not only are holding their noses to prevent themselves from smelling the foul odor, but they're also holding their tongues to prevent themselves from saying anything they'll regret.

Cohon wasn't saying anything at all.

In a statement, Cohon's sidekick, chief operating officer Michael Copeland, would only say: "We are very disappointed in the decision. However, we respect the jurisdiction of the arbitrator in this regard. . ."

Sure, sure.

This whole Gass thing, folks, stinks.

• From Edmonton Journal sports columnist Dan Barnes on the Gass pains for Cohon:

"There is little doubt the commissioner has been embarrassed by the entire sorry affair. It has taken too long from start to finish and turned out poorly. Right out of the gate Cohon took four long days to suspend Gass for ripping the helmet off Calgary lineman John Comiskey's head and throwing it downfield Aug. 4 at Commonwealth Stadium.

"Indecisiveness from the new guy on the job ought to have been embarrassment enough. Was the league's only VCR in the shop? Or did Cohon sneak off for a long weekend at the cottage in the middle of football season? No matter, as neither excuse could possibly stand up to close inspection.

"Nor did the suspension, and Cohon has to take the rap for that miscalculation. It's not as if he didn't have enough time to think it through. In four days he could have staged a re-enactment and still had time to watch tapes of every previous incident involving a helmet toss since 1980.

"To be fair, I thought the suspension was actually warranted, given the violent nature of Gass's actions and the fact he could easily have injured an official if his toss had been off line. But I'm not the one meting out discipline at the top of the CFL food chain. The man charged with that responsibility ought to be darn sure his actions are fair, his reasoning solid, his final decision based on precedent and beyond question, especially at the beginning of his tenure as he tries to build a reputation. This obviously cannot be the resolution Cohon had in mind."


• Cohon faces another stiff challenge now.

And, if he botches this, look out.

Cohon must reach a deal with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The previous agreement between the two leagues, which covered a number of issues, expired last December.

It's an important deal. It has in the past meant significant income for the CFL.

The CFL, as a return for money from the NFL, has given the NFL the freedom to sign players who are entering their option years in Canada.

• From the only-in-the-CFL department comes this information:

Last Monday, Mondoe Davis was sitting at home in Delaware, preparing for his shift as a counselor at a drug- and alcohol-recovery treatment centre.

Friday night, two months after being released by the Alouettes in training camp, Davis will be in Montreal's linebacking corps for a game in B.C. against the Lions.

• Speaking of the Als, they are trying a tit-for-tat approach with the Toronto Argonauts.

Last week, the Als cut running back Robert Edwards. The Argos picked him up. To make room for Edwards, the Argos cut running back Jamel White.

Now, the Als are about to sign White.

• The Argos have won two games in eight tries this season, both with Michael Bishop as their starting quarterback.

Bishop will return for the Labour Day not-so-Classic in Hamilton on Monday, and rest assured he'll be replacing Rocky Butler at some point.

Butler doesn't care.

"I knew coming in that this is Michael's team," Butler told Toronto Star reporter Rick Matsumoto. "I'm just here to help out while he's injured and for us to be stronger at the quarterback position going into the latter part of the season."

Bishop, I'll remind you, has a clause in his contract stipulating that he must play if he's in uniform.

• In Hamilton, rookie Timmy Chang is the Tiger-Cats' new starting quarterback.

"This is not an experiment," Hamilton head coach Charlie Taaffe told The Spectator's Steve Milton. "There is a process now. You can't keep going back and forth. (The coaching staff) and Timmy both need time now. We've made the decision and we have to give him the opportunity to play over time.

"It's not, 'You're our quarterback, but the first time you screw up, you're out.'

"We just felt, after eight games (the Ticats are 1-7), that we need to find out about Timmy Chang. In the short term, if he can make a difference and give us the spark we need. And in the long term to find out if he can be a CFL No. 1 quarterback, or if he is a No. 2."

The larger question is what happens to Chang's predecessor, Jason Maas, and his $300,000-plus salary, which is fully guaranteed?

Milt Stegall of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is not only the top touchdown scorer in the CFL. He's also the best-looking player in the CFL. At least, that's what he's been led to believe.

"Over my 13 years, I've been told that plenty of times, so I figured, well, I guess I am the best-looking guy in the CFL," Stegall told Rob Vanstone, brilliant sports columnist with the Regina Leader-Post. "When men are telling you that — these men, to my knowledge are straight men — that says a lot... you can hate me and you can want to kill me, but you can always say that I'm a good-looking man. It's just being honest."

Stegall also told Vanstone that he is "99.9-per-cent" certain that this is his final season in the CFL.

Vanstone, however, advised Stegall not to retire.

"Take it from someone who has been part of your life for almost six minutes," Vanstone wrote. "At 37, you are the CFL's leading receiver (again). You are also the league's career pace-setter in touchdowns, having recently eclipsed luminaries such as George Reed and Mike Pringle. Yes, there are family and business considerations. And, yes, football is a physically demanding sport. But why not play a few more years? How often do you get a chance to play a kids' game at an impossibly high level?

"Milk it, Milt. Enjoy it while you can."

• B.C.centre Angus Reid missed three years of college football at Simon Fraser because of gastrointestinal problems linked to Crohn's disease.

With the Lions, however, Reid has never missed a game. Or a practice. And Friday night in Montreal, he'll play in his 100th CFL game.

He's also, arguably, the best centre in the league.

He takes good polls, too. (Kidding.)

• Every week this season, I make my traditional picks against the spread at the bottom of this column. I went 0-2 last week and am 20-11-1 on the season.

Week 10:

FRIDAY— Montreal at B.C:

The Lions are favoured by three points. B.C. has injury problems, especially at quarterback, but the three-hour time difference always seems to affect the Alouettes negatively. TAKE B.C. MINUS THE THREE POINTS.

SUNDAY— Winnipeg at Saskatchewan:

The Roughriders are favoured by five points. Is this a Grey Cup preview? Both teams are playing exceptionally well. The Roughriders are well rested and the home-field advantage should have them flying high. TAKE THE ROUGHRIDERS MINUS THE FIVE POINTS.

MONDAY— Toronto at Hamilton:

The Tiger-Cats are favoured by 2.5 points. I'm not sure if I could watch this one between the league's dregs. Timmy Chang starts at QB for the Tiger-Cats. He was exceptional in college but I'm not sure he's ready for prime time just yet. TAKE TORONTO PLUS THE 2.5 POINTS.

MONDAY— Edmonton at Calgary:

This is always an entertaining game, and there's no reason to suspect it won't be this time. The Eskimos have some injury problems (Jason Tucker will be out, and he's key) and they'll be in tough here, but Ricky Ray is a precision passer and he's capable of keeping things close. TAKE EDMONTON PLUS THE SIX POINTS.

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