The Edmonton Eskimos are pretty sure they’re about to get their second win over the Ottawa RedBlacks in the past four months.
With a mediator unable to solve a compensation dispute with the RedBlacks, a squabble over Edmonton’s hiring of former Ottawa offensive coordinator Jason Maas to be their head coach in mid-December is now in the hands of CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge, who is expected to make a decision by the end of March.
Following comments by Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group president Jeff Hunt earlier this week, the Eskimos have lifted the cone of silence.
“The direction from the league as part of the whole mediation process was that neither side would make public comments — Ottawa or Edmonton,” said Eskimos president and CEO Len Rhodes on Friday. “We were adhering to that request from the league. But given the fact that I’ve read some comments, I’m in the position, unfortunately, where I have to react.”
The RedBlacks gave the Eskimos permission to speak to Maas, then added a condition they would expect some form of compensation if their offensive coordinator, who had a year remaining on his contract, was hired.
“We started off asking for permission, we were granted permission, then something changed along the way,” said Rhodes. “I am not a legal expert, but there is a term in the legal world called detrimental reliance. It’s basically once you are given permission, you’re relying on a set of rules and guidance and that’s what we followed.
“We are so confident we followed all the rules and the process and protocols involved. When we initially requested permission, there was a condition, which we met. I don’t want to get into the he-said, she-said scenarios, but I assure you we followed all protocols. Almost at the midnight hour, the notion of compensation was introduced. We did not want to provide further compensation. We felt firm in our actions, based on all the guidance we’ve been given historically.
“It’s nothing personal with Ottawa. But at the end of the day, I want our fans to know we’re fighting for our rights. I cannot be more confident about our position than I am right now.”
There has been talk that the RedBlacks decided to add in a request for compensation as a result of an Eskimos complaint Grey Cup week — a beef which resulted in Algonquin College’s Loggersports team, which saws off a wood cookie after each RedBlacks touchdown at home games, banned from the sidelines in Winnipeg.
“I’ve got the utmost respect for the Ottawa RedBlacks organization so this is nothing personal,” said Rhodes. “Yes, there was an incident at Grey Cup. We had challenged that decision because we felt Grey Cup should be a level playing field. We had not been offered an opportunity to bring some form of celebration that our fans could participate in. It was introduced at the midnight hour and we said, ‘No. If we can’t do something, we can’t allow the other team to do something.’ We asked the league to reverse the decision, which they did. Did that cause some anxiety or emotional uproar? Maybe. But I don’t think that has anything to do with this case. We have our facts in order and I’m extremely confident that the facts will speak for themselves and the truth will be revealed shortly.”
The Eskimos needed to find a new coach after Chris Jones was hired by the Saskatchewan Roughriders, taking on multiple job titles in his new home. There was no compensation.
“This is not foreign territory for us,” said Rhodes. “We chose not to take that route (with Saskatchewan). What I will say is we asked for guidance on that notion, in terms of what can we and can’t we do and we were given guidance by the league office that there was no precedent for that. So we never wanted to stand in the way when it’s a move up. Whether it was compensation or no compensation, we were not going to get in the way of Chris Jones. And we expect the same from others when it’s a move up.
“Is it petty? I can’t tell another party whether something’s important or not. From my vantage point, it’s unfortunate we can’t just move on. This takes a lot of time and energy. We’re taking the high road, we’re using facts to guide us. As the facts unfold, they do speak for themselves.”
Rhodes looks forward to the season-opener June 25 — with the RedBlacks in Edmonton.
“(The football field), that’s where it should be settled," said Rhodes. "I look so forward to that rematch. It’ll rekindle some of the emotions and celebrations we got to share at Grey Cup in Winnipeg. Now we have to go out and earn it again and we might as well start against them on Day 1.”