There's likely to be enough distractions in what will be a unique return for the Canadian Football League.
While we approach a year that will be dominated as much by what happens on the field as off — as a new normal sets in owing to COVID-19 — there's something else that will be looming large over the 2021 season.
Talks between the CFL and XFL continue and will likely only intensify in the coming weeks and months. Predictably, not much has been divulged since the CFL first announced in March it is entertaining a potential merger with the XFL, a twice-failed spring league in the U.S.
That doesn't mean CFL players, including a number on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, haven't put some thought into what it could mean after the 2021 season. Even if their focus is on this year, and getting back on the field after missing all of 2020 owing to the coronavirus.
"I have been following it, I want to say, 60-70 per cent. If it’s big news, we sit here and wait for it, talk about it in our group chats among the players," Bombers defensive end Willie Jefferson said. "It’s not stuff that I would concern myself with or spend a lot of time thinking about. I understand the XFL stuff is gonna have conversations in locker rooms, pertaining to next year. But with us, the Winnipeg team, we’re just trying to keep all our players’ minds on this season. Personally, I’m not worried about 2022, I’m worried about 2021 and how I can make this year the best year, after not having a year."
Bombers offensive lineman Patrick Neufeld doesn't envision the ongoing talks with the XFL to be a reoccurring distraction during the season. At least he hopes it won't be. And while having some unanswered questions about the CFL's future isn't exactly ideal, the lack information has helped focus his attention on what's going on with this year and the return to games after long layoff.
"I can’t see that at all overshadowing or overtaking the season. Now that we have football back, that’s gonna be the big thing, the on-field product. And hopefully fans in the stadiums and getting back to what we do," Neufeld said. "It’s not like I’m privy to that information and I don’t even know what all is being said in that regard, but to me it’s all speculation and it’s not what I’d focus on at all, to be honest with you. Whatever happens with that happens with it. My mentality has been focusing on getting ready for a football season."
Adam Bighill is one to flex his brain along with his muscles. He's made Winnipeg his permanent home and so he's seen up close the chatter around the CFL and the varying opinions among local football fans. Bighill also seems to think it won't be a distraction, based mostly on the notion the CFL won't want to upset fans by announcing any new developments during the season.
He's also got some thoughts of his own, though he's careful not to add fuel to what he sees as mostly speculation to this point. But he's also a veteran of the CFL, made a name for himself in the league and wants the best for he and his colleagues.
That means taking good care of players, something he's not all that confident about when it comes to the XFL. Or at least what he's seen from the league during its two stints.
"It’s always gonna be in the back of people's mind, speculation on what's going on. But as far as what it means, it's too early to say what it means," Bighill said. "I can only guess that it’s probably not going to be better for the players, just off of what I can kind of foresee at this point. I mean, The Rock said he cares about players and this and that, but I don't know. The other leagues down south, the XFL, I mean they didn't have a union, no?
"Depending on how things move forward — and there’s not really a point in getting into too much speculation to talk about it now — taking care of players means having a union and having set agreements and a collective bargaining agreement. So, before I project too much on what it could look like, those are things, for me, that are top of mind, making sure that things are going to work out if they ever were to be a major consideration."
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.