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One last look at the CFL’s Orridge Era

Jeffrey Orridge era, a look back
Publish Date: 04/22/2017
Fact checked by: Simon Briffa
MONTREAL, QUE.: JUNE 25, 2015-- CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge visits the Percival Molson Stadium field before the start of the Montreal Alouettes home opener against the Ottawa Redblacks in Montreal on Thursday June 25, 2015. (Allen McInnis / MONTREAL GAZETTE)

Yeah, I should probably be concentrating on the upcoming CFL Draft, but I’ll admit to knowing next to nothing about Canadian college football and YouTube isn’t exactly cram-packed with highlight clips of offensive linemen in the CIS.

Instead I’m still … not exactly mourning, but considering the Orridge Era. Thus far, the biggest news to hit the CFL in April was the April 12th announcement of now-outgoing CFL commissioner Jeffery Orridge; it seems like just yesterday was he optimistically announced to head up the Canadian Football League (actually it was April 2015). We all politely forgot about the revolving door that is the CFL’s top post – more on this below – and believed in his media-first acumen.

The results? Well, this fan delineates some of the major events during the Orridge Era of the CFL – OK, so it was two years; hardly an era. Much of this was discussed in this week’s episode of the Rouge White & Blue CFL Podcast; listen to the show for a more positive opinion of the Orridge Era, courtesy of RWB co-host Joe Pritchard.

My scorecard for the past two years reads like so.

In April 2015, Orridge was named commissioner after holding the position of executive director at CBC sports for four years prior. He was touted as particularly good with media relations and even connections to the so-called new media. This premise was based on his overseeing of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Canada.

Among the very top of Orridge’s priority list, we were told, was implementation of a league-wide drug policy. Work on this drug policy went nowhere fast in his first full year with the club, but Orridge’s drug policy (or, presumably, some highly compromised version of the original) has been approved, though few details have been released.

In both 2015 and ’16, Orridge oversaw and OKed rule changes regarding contact with receivers and coach’s challenges, which quickly dominated any discussion of the CFL in the first half of that season – rather than, you know, the actual games themselves. Some games were slowed to a crawl and, as a Montreal Alouettes fan, I can tell you that these games don’t need to be longer.

How much of the blame for the actual rule changes themselves can be placed on Orridge? Very little: These sweeping rule changes go through channels from referees to owners, though we can certainly fault Orridge for giving approval to what was ultimately a beta-test version of the CFL rulebook.

Likewise, the Toronto home-field fiasco of 2015 also happened in Orridge’s first season at the helm, and the stadium issues faced by the Toronto Argonauts vis-à-vis use of Rogers Centre were certainly mostly beyond Orridge’s purview. Even if we blame subsequent scheduling issues (i.e. creating aberrations like Tuesday and Wednesday night football, depriving the Argos of three home dates in the season’s second half) on the schedule makers, shouldn’t the commissioner have had a pan and/or applied some influence in crunch time?

One interesting product of Orridge’s media savvy came in 2015, when the Grey Cup was shown live worldwide (except in Canada, the US and the UK) on YouTube. We’re not sure just how popular that was, but certainly a nice idea.

On the other hand, anyone remember the launch of the new CFL logo during the Grey Cup festivities of 2015? Can’t blame you if you don’t, thanks to the low-key, fanfare-free launch of the logo – again, *during Grey Cup week*. Totally bizarre.

Plus: I still can’t stand the CFL logo. I don’t think one needs a marketing degree to know that gray – the dominant color in the logo’s scheme – is just about the last color you’d want to use if the purpose is to, likesay, draw the eye and/or generate excitement in the product. With Orridge gone in June, can we bring back the former CFL logo? That’s a good logo.

In 2016, Orridge mostly went stealth, giving few interviews and rarely appearing publicly in connection with the league. In fact, when it came time for Grey Cup week again, the commissioner probably wishes he had stayed under the radar. For it was then that Orridge hammered home the nail in his own coffin – not a simple feat – by proclaiming:

Last I heard, it’s still a subject of debate in the medical and scientific community. The league’s position is that there is no conclusive evidence at this point. And as I said, we continue to work with them and monitor the progress that they’re making in terms of getting a greater understanding of whether or not there is a linkage.

Well, a $200 million lawsuit currently grinding through Canadian courts involving former players suing the league for damages due to CTE argues that there’s quite a case to be make for the “linkage.” Again, while it’s not Orridge’s personal decision to deny that connection, Orridge hardly handled this correctly. His statement was, in the vernacular of our times, tone deaf to say the very least; whoever next occupies the big chair will most assuredly project more sensitivity on this issue.

But it may not matter, because CFL commissioners just don’t’ stick around.

In eulogizing the Orridge Era, Rob Vanstone of the Regina Leader-Post looked to the future bleakly:

Good luck finding an able and long-term successor to Orridge. Any self-respecting businessperson has to be apprehensive about leaving or interrupting a presumably successful career to occupy an office that may very well be equipped with a trap door.

The way things are trending, the next commissioner’s nameplate should be written in chalk, because the revolving door continues to spin wildly out of control.

Consider the fact that Orridge was the CFL’s ninth full-time commissioner since 1984. The NFL has had an equal number of commissioners in its entire history, dating back to 1920.

And get this: Since 1960, only three men have held that exalted position in the NFL — Pete Rozelle, Paul Tagliabue and Roger Goodell.

Good stats there. It’s also interesting to note that, while the average timespan spent in the office since 1984 is over 3½ years, Orridge won’t make it to 2½.

Does this indicate that CFL franchise owners are getting more impatient with their league commissioners or that Orridge so failed to meet expectations that he had to go? I tend to believe it’s the latter and, though CFL commissioner may be a lose-lose proposition for the job-holder, Mr. Orridge simply failed to live up to even basic expectations.

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