Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets, Bombers worlds apart

NHL team heading up, CFL team simply screwed up

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On a night sports fans across Winnipeg made sure the batteries in their remotes were charged, both of our teams disappointed.

On a night tailored for comparisons, things looked similar on the surface, but couldn't be any different when looked at a little deeper.

With the Jets playing the Nashville Predators on their own channel and the Bombers visiting the Argos on the main network, it was all TSN all the time in many homes Thursday night. Despite our good viewing fortune, in the end it was more of the same from both clubs as the Bombers slipped to 3-14 on the season and the Jets dropped to 4-5-2.

The Bombers were previously eliminated from the playoffs in a league where six of eight teams qualify. The Jets are now near the bottom of the playoff chase in the NHL's Western Conference. Times are tough in Peg City. The races our teams are in right now are against the city of Edmonton. Check the standings in both leagues. This is not a good thing.

Not long ago the argument was made in this space that Winnipeg was the best place in the country to be a sports fan. We had a brand-new NHL team and a CFL team moving into the country's top football facility. Heady times.

Reality, however, has sunk in -- with a thud. The Bombers are comically mismanaged, operated by a woefully unqualified volunteer board of directors with far more say about day-to-day operations of the team than can be fathomed.

The Jets play in a league where winning on a nightly basis is very difficult. Sixteen teams reach the Stanley Cup playoffs, leaving close to half of the league on the outside. For a franchise like the Jets, who are attempting to rebuild after a decade of negligence, the order is tall.

On the surface, it looks dire for both clubs, but it isn't. Dig a little deeper and there is hope where the Jets are concerned. In Bomberland, however, only head-scratching and wondering when the madness will end.

The Jets are a well run sports franchise with a clear chain of authority and a plan. Ownership is among the wealthiest in professional sport. They pay their bills and re-invest in their franchise. The Jets are entrenching themselves.

Mark Chipman is a seasoned professional sports franchise operator and oversees of one of the country's most successful sports and entertainment conglomerates.

One might argue with the Jets' approach and wish for quicker success, but the model is sound and the management personnel are not only qualified, but accountable. The Jets work as a business and it will be only a matter of time before the product catches up.

The Bombers remain a charity surviving on the goodness of the taxpayer, with people in charge who have long overstayed their welcome.

The current board and its reign of ineffectiveness serves no one. Not the fan, not the taxpayer and not the organization.

Why are these people and this model still in place? The only conclusion I can reach is the desire for power. Being in charge has become more important than doing the right thing.

The Bombers board made some noise about keeping their fingers out of the pie when they put acting CEO Wade Miller in place. But I don't believe it and neither should you.

This board is not restricted to governance. They dabble in pro sports management as a hobby. Miserably, I might add.

They hired Joe Mack and they fired Joe Mack. They hired Garth Buchko, saddled him with a stadium full of problems, and then sacked him in a transparent act of scapegoating.

Buchko never had a chance. The board made sure of that and then they put him on a spit in an overt attempt to manipulate public opinion.

Now the Bombers are being operated by an acting CEO and acting GM. Maybe Miller, who has both business and football experience, can find a way to beat back the board and operate how he sees fit. And maybe he will have the right formula to fix the organization. The bigger question is, why do we even have to wonder if the CEO is in charge? Shouldn't that be implied in the very title?

The Bombers may stumble their way into a playoff game before the Jets can ever sell a post-season ticket. But it won't be as a result of anything more than blind luck, and the overwhelming odds of eventually being among the 75 per cent that can claim success in the CFL each season.

Some in Winnipeg are grumbling for change at the rink. Their focus is misdirected. It should be aimed squarely at the Bombers machine.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 25, 2013 C2

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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