In the great boxing ring of Major Sports in America, there are some clear heavyweights, guys like the NFL's Roger Goodell, say, or the NBA's David Stern.
Guys who get the top of the card, who show up for those ridiculous weigh ins where, for no particular reason I have ever been able to discern, the fighters strip down to tighty-whiteys in front of, like, 3000 sportswriters and step on a scale and then stand there nose-to-nose glaring at each other while the cameras whirr.
(If you find the thought of David Stern in his u-trou somewhat disturbing, I apologize. Tossing around metaphorical situations is dangerous work)
Our own beloved Don Garber, who Dan Loney has taken to thumping up on over this idiotic Beckham business as if he wasn't just reading his lines right out of the script, is, sadly, not in this particular weight class. I mean sure, Danny "Little Red" Lopez was one hell of a fighter but you didn't stick him in the ring with Joe Frazier. Yeah, Lopez could have run around a while but sooner or later Smokin Joe would have caught him with a right hook and launched him into Row 11.
However, within his weight class - I'm thinking welterweights or, maybe, junior middles - Don "The Queens Crusher" Garber, can absolutely hold his own. Some people would argue that another boy from Queens, Gary Bettmann of the NHL, outclasses him, but my money's on Don.
Since Bettmann is obviously ducking the Garber fight, looking for tomato cans like the WNBA's Donna Orender or Major League Lacrosse's David Gross (we're talking featherweights here) to beat up on for the paycheck, another league commissioner has stepped into the ring for 12 rounds with with Don Garber: Canadian Football League Commisioner Mark Cohon.
(No, he did not sing "Walkin' in Memphis". That's Cohen. Totally different.)
And the prize isn't one of those absurd "belts" that some designated flunkie carries behind you on the walk to the ring. However, in this bout the winner will end up with a prize perhaps even less worthwhile in the long run:
The winner gets Ottawa.
AS I DISCUSSED A COUPLE OF WEEKS BACK Ottawa is hotly pursuing two distinctly non-compatable leagues. One group of investors wants to bring the CFL back to town while the Melnyk group is hot on the trail of MLS.
The City finds itself in a bind since they figure they can find the money for one stadium but not two, and the groups aren't going to share since, although the CFL guys say Melnyk is welcome in their place, Melnyk knows he'll never get a team if the best he can do for a building is a borrowed CFL venue.
The edge that the CFL group has had up until now has been that they have put down a substantial deposit and in return the CFL has given them a promise that if they can get a stadium somehow they will indeed get a team.
This has somewhat handicapped the Melnyk group because, as we all know, their bid is much more speculative. They're just one of a number of bidders for an MLS team and, at least until recently, were seen as the least likely winner. It's been tough for Ottawa's City fathers to line up with the MLS bird in the bush when the CFL side is a sure thing.
Then last week, in meeting with editors and writers from The Ottawa Sun, in a stunning statement which somehow escaped much notice South of the Border down USA way, MLS Commissioner said that if Ottawa does indeed agree to build a soccer stadium, "IT'S ALMOST INCONCEIVABLE" that Ottawa wouldn't get a team.
Now of course like many if not most of Garber's hand grenades, like "we have to have a deal done for Beckham by this Friday or else, well, or else", this one has the obvious "almost" qualifier which they're ignoring up North.
In short, Garber leveled the playing field in the fight with the CFL but, in doing so, not only made what sounds a lot like a promise to Ottawa (they certainly take it that way) but also drew a line in the sand with the CFL's Cohon.
Garber and Melnyk went on to call the future of the CFL into question, painting it as a league in deep decline that represents a far greater risk than MLS ever could, with the clear implication that if the city builds a CFL stadium that in just a few years they could end up with an empty building dedicated to a defunct league while MLS remains forever out of their grasp.
Melnyk drew a line under this thesis the next day, asking "...what will be around 25 years from now? Will it be soccer or will it be CFL football? I'll lay my money on soccer. It is the sport of the world, and it is just a question of time of when it would reach our shores.”
The next day, Cohon fired back, saying in part that [i]In 2008, we averaged 28,914 fans per regular-season game. By comparison, Toronto's BMO Field, home to Toronto FC of the MLS, seats 21,000 people. … On TV, the CFL continues to experience great success. Last season on TSN, the CFL averaged 393,000 viewers per game, second only to hockey in Canada. … The suggestion that the Grey Cup and Canadian football have somehow run their course is clearly not based on fact."
Among other interested observers was the now increasingly nervous Bob Lenarduzzi, the guy who's heading up the Vancouver bid. Referring to Don's THROWDOWN WITH COHON he commented to a local radio station that "It's interesting to hear Garber talk glowingly in terms of Ottawa
Of course, talking "glowingly" about Ottawa isn't what Garber did: he in fact pretty much promised them a team, which will leave the Whitecaps in the tender clutches of Frank Marcos and the USL.
At MLS Cup in LA last November, a source I very much respect told me that, far from being a loose cannon, as I had suggested, that Garber in fact chooses his words very carefully. And if you look at what The Crusher actually said, it's really nothing that anyone should find startling.
From Day One of the Garber regime, he has said that two things - and two things only - got you into MLS: (repeat after me) a deep pockets owner and a soccer stadium.
And the word is that MLS has discovered that Melnyk, maybe more than any of the others prospects, is exactly their kind of guy. A smart, savvy sports marketer with a wealth of local experience. Heck, that alone got Salt Lake a team. There wasn't even a hint of a stadium deal but they figured Checketts would get it done and they were right, in spades. Rio Tinto is an absolute jewel.
And of the remaining expansion candidates, exactly none of them currently fit the profile. Miami comes closest and MLS is probably figuring that they can get a better building sooner or later. St. Louis doesn't have THE MAN that MLS wants, and neither Portland nor Vancouver has a long term stadium solution. Portland, frankly, has nothing at all and BC Place in Vancouver is simply not what the league has in mind.
So at the end of the day, if you grant that Miami is #1 in line, then if the City of Ottawa agrees to build a soccer venue, they become #2 by default.
In which case, as Garber quite rightly said, it's "almost inconceivable" that they would not get a team.