TORONTO — CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie says the Toronto Argonauts are looking at how to rectify the turf issue at BMO Field.
Most of BMO Field’s playing surface is natural grass. But the entire north end zone is turf as is a portion of the south end zone.
The difference in surfaces has caused problems, highlighted in the second quarter of a game Saturday when Edmonton receiver Derel Walker slipped and fell in the north end zone, allowing Toronto defensive back Ronnie Yell to intercept a pass and preserve a 12-4 advantage. That turned out to be a crucial play as the Argos eventually won 20-17.
Ambrosie saw Walker’s slip firsthand as he attended the game with Toronto governor Dale Lastman and club president Bill Manning. Ambrosie said all three discussed the matter afterwards and that the Argos are well aware of the situation and actively pursuing a resolution.
However, Ambrosie said finding a suitable fix isn’t an easy matter.
"It’s not like you and I and six other guys showing up with some sod and laying it down on a weekend," Ambrosie said Tuesday. "What I learned Saturday night after having that conversation is it’s much more complicated than that.
"I found Bill and Dale very engaged on the issue and they’re exploring what the options are. We’ll just keep having the conversation with them and hopefully at some point we’ll find a solution that makes sense for all parties."
Edmonton quarterback Mike Reilly said Walker slipped because he was running on turf.
"A hundred per cent he slipped and fell because of the turf, but it’s not something that we don’t know about, both teams play on it," Reilly told TSN after the game. "There’s nothing we can do about that, we’re going to run our plays and try to execute them and do your best as you can on that surface.
"I’ve never seen D-Walk slip and fall on a one-on-one jump ball."
Other CFL players also chimed in.
"The to Toronto turf monster (endzone) strikes again!!!! It’s Changing games now!!" tweeted Ottawa receiver Greg Ellingson.
But Ellingson also said receivers use the turf to their advantage.
"Also used by offence to break routes off before the endzone. Making dbs change direction in the endzone. Slipping in the process," he added via Twitter.
Hamilton defensive back Courtney Stephen tweeted: "It makes NO Sense. It’s not safe at all."
Ambrosie, a former CFL offensive lineman, admits he has player safety concerns regarding the BMO Field turf.
"I worry about it," he said. "We’ve received feedback from the Players’ Association that they’re worried about it as well.
"I think about it and I do want us to be conscious about it through that lens. We’re talking with the Argos about it, they’re looking at what the possibilities are and we just keep working towards a solution and hope one is out there."
Another startling development Saturday was the attendance. Only 12,196 spectators watched the defending Grey Cup champions earn their first win of the season after 16,450 attended Toronto’s home opener, a 41-7 Grey Cup rematch loss to Calgary on June 23.
Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment is in its first season owning the Argos. The company certainly faces an uphill battle rebuilding a franchise that averaged under 14,000 fans last season but Ambrosie remains bullish on MLSE’s financial clout and marketing resources.
"I spent a lot of time in the stadium and the fans that were there were loving it," he said. " I’m confident the plan MLSE and the Argos have is going to yield long-term results.
"There was never going to be an overnight solution."
Toronto isn’t the only CFL club having trouble at the turnstiles.
The Montreal Alouettes drew 16,718 fans to their 28-18 home loss to Ottawa on Friday night after 19,498 watched them drop their season opener 56-10 to Winnipeg on June 22. And the B.C. Lions host Winnipeg on Saturday night in their first home game since June 16 when they attracted 20,182 spectators to a 22-10 victory over the Als.
However, Ambrosie feels B.C. is in good hands with new president Rick LeLacheur, who was part of two Grey Cup-winning teams as Edmonton’s president.
"I like what he’s doing, he’s a veteran of our league," Ambrosie said. "He knows the value of getting young people into the stadium so they (Lions) have created a ticket-pricing strategy for young season-ticket holders, for kids to become fans of the B.C. Lions."
Ambrosie feels the entire CFL can help Montreal regain a foothold in Quebec.
"How do we make sure our friends and partners in Quebec see that commitment to the LCF brand the way English Canadians see the commitment to the CFL brand?" Ambrosie said. "I don’t think we’ve done enough on that front.
"It’s not just a Montreal Alouettes issue anymore, it has to be in partnership with the other eight teams and league office. I think if we do that we can help accelerate the recovery to a very strong franchise in that city."