December 27, 2011
One of the more bizarre stories of the CFL offseason popped up this week with the news that Ottawa's expansion team, scheduled to begin play in 2014, will definitely not be using the historic "Rough Riders" name. Jeff Hunt, leader of the Ottawa team's leadership group, sat down with the Ottawa Sun's editorial board to talk about stadium construction, legal challenges and the timeframe for Ottawa's return to the league (still set for 2014), but the most interesting thing he mentioned was the name restrictions. The rationale behind Ottawa being prohibited from reclaiming the Rough Riders name? As Tim Baines of the Sun writes, Hunt ascribes it to to a different set of Riders, the green-clad executives out in Saskatchewan:
You can place the big, fat blame on the group of farmboys who run the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the team that stole Ottawa's name.
Oh, they're all for football in Ottawa, but they want to be the only Roughriders (Rough Riders).
"The only way Saskatchewan would vote for us was they had the right to veto our name," Jeff Hunt, part of the Ottawa CFL team's ownership group, told an Ottawa Sun Editorial Board meeting. "I thought in fullness of time, we would prevail on Saskatchewan to allow a community to have its own history. The Rough Riders name even pre-dates history. I thought they could be convinced. But I thought wrong. As time passed, their adamance from us using the name only grew.
From this corner, it would be great to see Ottawa reclaim their historic name, as it's one that means a lot to the CFL. The Rough Riders were founded in 1876, kept that name through their folding in 1996 (the later Renegades were a separate entity), won nine Grey Cups and were a crucial part of the league's history. Moreover, the issue about having two teams named "Roughriders" or "Rough Riders" is overblown. For one thing, Ottawa had their name first; the Rough Riders took that moniker in 1898, while Saskatchewan's Roughriders weren't founded until 1910 and didn't take the Roughriders until 1924 (as the Regina Roughriders).
On another front, the two teams derived their names from different sources. There's debate on whether Ottawa's name truly came from the lumbermen in the area or from Teddy Roosevelt's famous troops in the Spanish-American War (who wore red and black, Ottawa's colours), but Saskatchewan's has been reasonably clearly traced to the Northwest Mounted Police and the "roughriders" who broke their broncos. Both teams have a long history with their names, spell them differently and use noticeably different logos and colours (a Ottawa helmet is seen at left above, a Saskatchewan helmet is seen at right above), so the conflict really isn't as bad as it might seen.
Regardless of whether the Ottawa ownership group elects to reclaim "Rough Riders" or go with something new, though, the larger issue here is that it should be their choice, not Saskatchewan's. The current Roughriders are merely one of eight CFL franchises, and although they may well be the most financially successful one at the moment, that shouldn't give them any further influence beyond one-eighth of the votes. A new "Rough Riders" won't hurt them any; their brand identity's already clearly established, and no one's going to confuse a new Ottawa franchise for the current Saskatchewan one.
Even if a new Rough Riders team would damage Saskatchewan (which it wouldn't), that shouldn't really be an issue either. League-wide decisions should be made on the principles of what's best for the league as a whole, not what's best for any individual club. There is something in a name, but the real problem here is a seemingly-provincial exercise of power. Decisions about Ottawa should be made at the league level, and the existing Roughriders' opinions on the new team's name should not be a factor.