National Post (Latest Edition)

Postponeme­nt of CFL season inevitable in face of COVID

League governors meet to weigh their options

- Dan Barnes Postmedia News

Two months ago, well before the third wave of COVID-19 wrought more devastatio­n across the country, some Canadian Football League insiders were quietly predicting the 2021 schedule would be pared to perhaps 14 games, with an early- or mid-august start date.

But in public, the league’s key stakeholde­rs were still espousing hope that training camps would begin on time in May, the regular season would kick off as advertised on June 10 and a full, 18-game schedule would be played. In their wildest dreams, those people even envisioned some paying fans in attendance in all nine CFL stadiums.

Alas, fantasy isn’t reality and hope isn’t much of a strategy in the throes of a worsening pandemic.

So, following a crucial meeting of the league’s board of governors, we will hear something about a postponeme­nt.

Given the fact that surging infection numbers have left government­s in Ontario and Quebec in no position or mood to sign off on the CFL’S return to play protocols for a few weeks, an announceme­nt of a postponeme­nt has in fact been inevitable.

“We’re simply not in a position to sign off on return to play for the CFL at this moment. We were close, but the ground has shifted significan­tly,” Ontario sport minister Lisa Macleod said April 15. “We were getting close toward the end of March, but I think it’s been very clear that the health conditions across Ontario are not at a place where we can sign off on return to play.”

However, the imminent postponeme­nt was about as definitive as it got on Monday, because CFL governors had yet to decide exactly how to proceed beyond postponeme­nt, and will use their meeting to parse the options.

Will they simply kick the can down the road by deciding on an indefinite postponeme­nt? Remember that on April 7 of last year, CFL commission­er Randy Ambrosie announced a regular season postponeme­nt to “at least July 1,” and we all know how that turned out, with full cancellati­on on Aug. 17.

Will the governors instead pick a firm date for the start of training camps and either go forward at that point, pending COVID-19 conditions and health and safety approvals from the provinces, or then decide on another postponeme­nt? Will they offer fans a range of dates that can be tapped for camps and regular season kickoff, depending upon the COVID-19 situation as those dates come and go?

Will they pick the latest possible date for the start to a season of significan­t duration, let’s call it September 1, to give themselves the best possible chance of having fans in the stands, while also limiting themselves to a drasticall­y truncated schedule?

Will they scrap all pre-season games? Quite likely. Would they try to start a season by having the four teams from Ontario and Quebec play consecutiv­e road games out west, provided COVID numbers are flatter on the prairies and in B.C.? Possible. Are they talking about another hub city concept? Not so far.

But there are plenty of scenarios in play as team governors come to grips with ever more sobering financial realities. If they don’t play at all in 2021, they will lose gobs of money again.

It has been widely reported that the nine CFL teams combined to lose at least $60 million in 2020. If they decide to play a significan­t number of games this year without fans in the stands, or a massive cash infusion from the federal government or a benefactor like the XFL ownership, or concession­s from the players in the way of another significan­t salary rollback — and none of the above are likely to come to fruition — they will lose even more money. It could be as much as $100 million.

CFL governors understand the importance of playing in 2021. However, not all team owners are convinced they have to play at all costs, and some believe the league can survive a second lost season.

Some would rather wait it out as long as possible, hoping the vaccines start winning the war against the variants, and fans are welcomed back into stadiums in the fall. Those teams believe that a seriously shortened season played in front of paying customers is a better financial gamble.

But a longer season is a better financial bet for players, many of whom haven’t seen a dime from their CFL teams since the fall or winter of 2019. A postponeme­nt is the second last thing they would want to hear about today.

 ?? TODD KOROL / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES ?? The situation is looking bleak again to play some sort of a season
this year for commission­er Randy Ambrosie and the CFL.
TODD KOROL / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES The situation is looking bleak again to play some sort of a season this year for commission­er Randy Ambrosie and the CFL.

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