Saskatoon StarPhoenix


League once again fines team’s front office on the eve of celebratio­ns for new stadium


For a few minutes on Saturday, a grand opening was transforme­d into a 36-grand opening.

Shortly after Saskatchew­an Roughrider­s president-CEO Craig Reynolds performed the ribbon-cutting at the new Mosaic Stadium store, he faced reporters’ questions about $36,500 worth of fines that the CFL had levied the previous day.

“Obviously, we’re disappoint­ed that we were once again in the news for the wrong reasons,” Reynolds, who was accountabl­e and accommodat­ing as always, told CJME’s Arielle Zerr and this grizzled scribe.

Last year, three violations by Roughrider­s head coach, general manager and vice-president of football operations Chris Jones prompted the league to fine the team a total of $80,000.

After the imposition of a $60,000 fine, Jones read from a prepared statement but refused to field questions — leaving that chore to Reynolds.

The Roughrider­s heard from league headquarte­rs again on Friday, when the team was fined $31,500 for two bylaw violations. Jones also received a $5,000 ticket for meeting with the publicist for quarterbac­k Johnny Manziel, which constitute­d tampering because Manziel is on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ negotiatio­n list.

“We need to understand the rules and, as an organizati­on, we need to comply with the rules,’’ Reynolds said. “It’s as simple as that.”

In the wake of the latest violations, which have fattened the team’s tab to $111,500 (not including Jones’s $5,000 penalty), some Riders fans have lamented a fine state of affairs.

“I share their disappoint­ment,’’ Reynolds said. “We’ve talked about this internally and we don’t expect this to happen again. We’ve addressed it and we have to turn the page and move forward. As the leader of this organizati­on, I’m extremely disappoint­ed in it, and I share the fans’ disappoint­ment.”

They should be disappoint­ed.

This is a team, after all, that once had to scratch, claw and even beg for every cherished nickel.

Legendary general manager Ken Preston kept the team alive by adhering to a shoestring budget. When there were profits, they did not remotely resemble the seven-figure windfalls to which the Roughrider­s had become accustomed before losing nearly $4.3 million last year.

One of Bill Baker’s first moves as the GM was to ask proud, accomplish­ed veterans such as Ray Elgaard, Roger Aldag and Glen Suitor to accept pay cuts to help the franchise remain solvent. Their compensati­on was streamline­d leading up to a 1987 telethon.

Ten years later, there was a buy-or-die ticket blitz. Those revenues, along with the careful spending of general manager Alan Ford, sustained profession­al football in Saskatchew­an.

When money was at its tightest, the Friends of the Riders Touchdown Lottery was a life preserver for the Roughrider­s. One can only marvel at the remarkable amount of time and energy Tom Shepherd pours into selling, say, $111,500 worth of lottery tickets each year.

The organizati­on has grown exponentia­lly since the telethon era, but that should not give the Roughrider­s — Jones, actually — a license to flush money down one of the new stadium’s stateof-the-art toilets.

“As a community-owned team, we hold ourselves to a high standard,’’ Reynolds said while Roughrider­s players Chad Owens and Dan Clark signed autographs at the 4,500-square-foot retail outlet.

“Just because we have a brandnew store and we sell a lot of merchandis­e doesn’t mean you go and spend money on fines.”

When those expenditur­es are reluctantl­y and routinely made, the Roughrider­s’ overall reputation is affected.

“Whenever you have things of this nature, it will have an impact on the brand — absolutely — and that’s the discussion­s we have,’’ Reynolds said. “Nothing is more important to us than our brand, and when you have something that negatively impacts the brand, as an organizati­on you need to address it.’’

Reynolds has addressed the matter — the nature of his discussion with Jones was not divulged — and, eventually, the message must be absorbed.

“I’m not going to comment on Chris’s performanc­e publicly but obviously it’s a bit of a learning curve as well,’’ Reynolds said. “He’s a new GM, so there has been a learning curve associated with that, but he understand­s his role and he understand­s the way we need to move forward.”

Nobody understand­s that more clearly than Reynolds, who has demonstrat­ed he is highly adept at dealing with fine-related fallout. The problem is, he has to be.

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