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Ottawa expansion pushes Winnipeg back to old CFL neighbourhood

Winnipeg quarterback Justin Goltz (left) hands the ball to tailback Will Ford during Thursday's practice at Investors Group Field.


Winnipeg quarterback Justin Goltz (left) hands the ball to tailback Will Ford during Thursday's practice at Investors Group Field.

They say you should be careful what you wish for.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers organization — and the overwhelming preponderance of its fans — got what they wanted Thursday when the CFL Board of Governors approved moving the team back to the league's West Division for the 2014 season.

The Bombers as an organization have long believed they're more economically viable playing in the West, where they enjoy deeper and more long-running rivalries — particularly with Saskatchewan — than they ever did during three stints in the league's East Division.

And fans of the team have also long complained about the same thing, not to mention the schizophrenic incongruity that a team based in Western Canada played in the East.

But perhaps lost a little in all the celebration was the fact that from a competition standpoint, the Bombers are a lot better off in the East than the West — and, let's face it, this current incarnation of the Bombers needs all the help they can get.


  • The woeful 2-8 Bombers currently sit just four points behind the third-place Montreal Alouettes, who at 4-6 hold down the third and final playoff spot in the East. And the Bombers are just six points behind Hamilton for second place and hosting a playoff game in November. As bizarre as it sounds, the Bombers are still very much in the playoff hunt in the East despite having won just twice in 10 games.
  • In stark contrast, the Bombers' season would effectively be already over if they were playing in the West this year, where they would trail the third-place B.C. Lions (6-4) by eight points and would be a full 12 points behind the Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Roughriders, who are tied for first at 8-2.

Now, while it is true the relative strength of the East and West Divisions in the CFL have always ebbed and flowed from year to year, it is undeniable that the stronger football organizations are clearly in the West right now.

The Roughriders are, by far, the league's strongest club with a new stadium going up and whispers that the club could earn as much as $10 million in profit this season should they advance to their own Grey Cup in Regina and win it.

The Lions have a solid and growing ticket base and a gorgeous new/old stadium at BC Place that was renovated at someone else's expense to the tune of a half-billion dollars.

The Calgary Stampeders are now owned by the NHL's Calgary Flames and have arguably the best coach and GM in the league in John Hufnagel.

Only the Edmonton Eskimos are a joke — on the field and off of it — in the West Division.

By contrast, the Bombers will leave behind an East Division where the Toronto Argonauts have a stadium inadequate to their needs and no immediate hope of a new one; a Tiger-Cats franchise getting a new stadium but continuing to struggle to sell tickets; an Alouettes organization that's seeing ticket sales slide the last two years right in combination with their once-dominant team; and a new Ottawa REDBLACKS franchise — whose re-entry into the league in 2014 prompted Winnipeg's return West — that is going to have to be literally built from the ground up this winter.

And so it would seem fair to say the Bombers are better off in the West in every way other than on the field, where those strong organizations in the West are likely to field strong teams for years to come.

Bring it, say the Bombers.

"It was the club's decision for several reasons to go back to the West," said Bombers chief operating officer Jim Bell Thursday. "Certainly, in the times over the years when there's been nine teams in the league, the Bombers have been in the West. So it's a good fit that way.

"Equal to that is that geographically we think it's a good fit. And then finally, it's an extremely competitive league no matter who you play every week. Now that we're in the West, we'll switch our attention to that.

"But we'll be ready every week no matter who we play."

Which would be nice, actually, for a change.

Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter (retired)

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.

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Updated on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 6:46 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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