With Ottawa set to rejoin the CFL, commissioner Michael Lysko said he would soon begin examining further expansion and may hold pre-season games in neutral sites to test new markets.

"It is being considered," said Lysko, recalling that the success of a 1989 NBA pre-season game in Toronto played a part in that city later being granted a basketball franchise.

Cities being considered for expansion include Quebec City, Halifax and London, Ont.

He said neutral site games would likely be in addition to the two pre-season games teams currently play -- one at home and one away -- because clubs would be unwilling to give up home matches.

Neutral site games also give the league a chance to "build our brand in new markets," he said.

Ottawa, which disbanded after the 1996 season, is to become the league's ninth club next season, but no timetable has been set for adding more teams.

"We've got to take a deep breath," said Lysko. "We do nothing without market research and we haven't started any research yet.

"We had to concentrate on nine teams before we get to 10."

Lysko was asked repeatedly about Quebec City, where football has begun to flourish and where Laval University has consistently drawn more than 14,000 to its home games in recent years.

"In view of the interest in Quebec, there's no reason we can't take a long look at that and I intend to do that in the next couple of months," he said.

Quebec would be a natural rival for Montreal, but for now, the CFL wants to rebuild the old Ottawa-Montreal rivalry.

Ottawa will have two home games against the Alouettes next season, including on Labour Day weekend when the CFL likes to pit its fiercest rivals against one another, Lysko said.

Alouettes president Larry Smith sees Quebec as a future rival, but not right away.

"If I was a betting man, I'd say that within three to five years, Quebec will be ready -- not more than that," said Smith. "We need to reinforce the football culture there.

"It's still new. It has to be in people's blood."

Both Quebec City and Halifax lack the roughly 25,000-seat stadium needed for a CFL club, but Smith said Quebec could upgrade Laval's stadium and Halifax is likely to get a new facility.

Smith, who is also chairman of the Canada Games committee, said Denis Coderre, federal secretary of state for amateur sport, wants a stadium built in Halifax because eastern Canada lacks facilities for major sports events.

"They're going to look at a stadium in Halifax and that could be piggy-backed into getting a CFL franchise," said Smith.

In a previous job as CFL commissioner, Smith helped organize a neutral site game between Toronto and Calgary in Portland, Ore., in 1993 as part of the league's ill-fated expansion into the United States.

While talk of expansion fills the air, questions remain about Ottawa's re-entry, particularly on how it affects Winnipeg.

The Blue Bombers spent 10 years in the East Division after Montreal folded in 1987, returned to the West when the Alouettes came back in 1996, then were shuffled back to the East a year later when the Ottawa Rough Riders died.

"People assume that Winnipeg will go back to the West, but remember, they've spent most of the last 15 years in the east,"' said Lysko.

"There will be a tremendously lively discussion," said Smith. "Some teams in the West see Winnipeg as a threat.

"History suggests Winnipeg should be in the West and the next expansion site will be in the east, either Quebec City, Halifax or London -- in that order."

By Bill Beacon