NFL no plan to move north
DETROIT (CP) - A year after suggesting Toronto was a future candidate for NFL expansion, commissioner Paul Tagliabue slammed the door on the subject Friday.
Tagliabue told reporters at his annual state-of-the-union address Friday that the league has no plans to expand into Canada and the NFL's priority remains putting a team back into Los Angeles.
"I could not see, at least now, a decision that would involve a two-team expansion," Tagliabue said. "If there is expansion, I would think it would leave us with an odd number of teams for some period of time, which we have had in the past.
"I don't see expansion to Canada as being related to what we might do in Los Angeles."
The long-standing belief has been that if, or when, the NFL returns to Los Angeles it will add a second expansion team to keep its two conferences balanced.
The NFL currently has 32 teams, 16 per conference. Los Angeles would make for 33. However, Tagliabue said the league is willing to go with an odd number of teams for several years, thus delivering a blow to Canada's chances of landing a club.
At last year's Super Bowl, Tagliabue said both Mexico and Toronto were future candidates for NFL expansion. The league opened the 2005 season in Mexico, with a record 103,467 fans cramming into Azteca Stadium to watch the Arizona Cardinals beat the San Francisco ***** 31-14.
The NFL has only staged exhibition games in Canada, in both Toronto and Vancouver.
CFL commissioner Tom Wright, who attended Friday's news conference, said Tagliabue is very aware of the impact an NFL team in Canada would have on CFL teams.
"Clearly the commissioner understood what our goals were and understood the importance of a partnership," Wright said afterwards. "He understands that a strong CFL is ultimately going to be good for football and what's good for football in Canada is going to help the NFL.
"We are now finishing almost a decade of a formal relationship with the NFL and I have every hope it will be another decade of a good relationship."
The CFL and NFL entered into a working agreement following the 1996 season, a deal that continues to allow players in the Canadian league entering the option year of their deals a six-week window to sign deals south of the border. The NFL-CFL deal runs through April 2007.
"Clearly he also knows the CFL wouldn't have had the chance to renew itself following the U.S. expansion had the NFL not stepped forward and supported us," Wright said. "They've seen what happens when there's a strong organization that is focused on growing the game in Canada and what it results in is a healthier football climate for both of our leagues."
Toronto has long lobbied for an NFL expansion franchise and in the past Tagliabue has always kept the door open to the possibility, although during a visit to the city in 2002 he told Canadian fans not to hold their breath.
"I don't see any expansion on the horizon," he said then.
In October, Tagliabue also suggested Toronto might host a regular-season game next season, the way Mexico City did in 2005, but Friday he also shot that down.
"Right now, I think it's going to be difficult to play a regular-season game outside of the United States in this upcoming '06 season," he said. "We're still exploring alternatives but I would think over time we would do it in the right way and the right place."
With no expansion team on the horizon, Toronto could look to try and sway a current franchise to move north. The most logical candidate would be the New Orleans Saints, who were forced out of the Super Dome this season due to the damage created by hurricane Katrina.
But Tagliabue also dismissed the notion that the Saints will be leaving New Orleans anytime soon.
"I've said in New Orleans and elsewhere in the region, our commitment is a multi-year commitment," he said. "We are working extremely hard to have all eight of the Saints regular-season games played in the Super Dome."
Tagliabue has long teased Canadians about the possibility of expansion to the north, always stopping short of making any firm commitments.
During a 1995 visit to Toronto, he said: "We're very interested in this market. We know how much interest there is here in the NFL and we have equally as much interest."
In 1997, he said that any expansion to Canada would have to consider the possible effects on the CFL.
EDIT: Can this please be moved to NFL Talk?