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If the 2020 Canadian Football League season is to be played — and that's a big IF as Canada and the rest of the world wrestle with the COVID-19 pandemic — it won't begin until at least September.
That was the headline news delivered by CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie in a statement released by the league Wednesday afternoon. There were other disappointing updates in the statement as well, including a change of plans for the 2020 Grey Cup, originally scheduled for Nov. 22 in Regina, and the cancellation of July's Touchdown Atlantic game in Halifax.
"We know a lot must fall into place for us to play games this September. I've said it myself, it doesn't appear to be our most likely scenario," Ambrosie said. "But there is one thing we've learned in this pandemic: a lot can change in 100 days."
Indeed, a lot can and has changed since the coronavirus was first upgraded to a global pandemic in mid-March.
The CFL had already postponed the season once before, moving the June 11 start date of the regular season to early July. But as provinces across the country continue to enforce strict social-distancing conditions, crippling any chance for a summer return for the CFL, the decision to look towards beginning in the fall was a smart and predictable move.
Ambrosie, who took questions from season-ticket holders in a 30-minute virtual town hall shortly after the statement was released, said the announcement shouldn't be viewed as confirmation games will be played this year. Simply put: there is no guarantee CFL players will take to the gridiron in 2020. If a season is to be played, a shortened schedule would include at least eight games per team.
"It is one of the scenarios we are pursuing," Ambrosie said about the potential September start, which could begin as early as the Labour Day long weekend.
As for the 2020 Grey Cup, a decision has been made to cancel this year's planned events in Regina. The Saskatchewan Roughriders have instead been awarded the 2022 title game, while the Hamilton Tiger-Cats remain the Grey Cup hosts in 2021.
"We are quite disappointed, of course. But obviously with all the things that have been happening around the pandemic, having a traditional Grey Cup just isn't possible." – CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie
If there is a Grey Cup game this year, it will be played in the city of the qualifying team with the best regular-season record.
"We are quite disappointed, of course. But obviously with all the things that have been happening around the pandemic, having a traditional Grey Cup just isn't possible," Ambrosie said. "If we are able to play we're going to go to a win-and-host strategy. So, essentially, the two teams that would be playing in the Grey Cup, the team that had the better regular-season record would be the host of the Grey Cup this year."
For fans of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, that means the defending Grey Cup champions could potentially defend their title on home turf.
The CFL has made efforts in recent years to move the Grey Cup game up, in an attempt to get the warmest weather possible. But because of the coronavirus, Ambrosie said he hasn't ruled out playing the game as late as December.
For those hoping to attend this year's Touchdown Atlantic game between the Roughriders and Toronto Argonauts on July 25 in Halifax, that game has been officially cancelled. Ambrosie added that the league would be in contact with those who purchased tickets to work out details of a refund.
"We wanted to be there, we wanted to show them CFL support for that great part of the country," Ambrosie said. "But, unfortunately, with the coronavirus we just had to make that decision."
One of the major differences between the CFL and other professional sports leagues in North America, especially during this global health crisis, is the amount of money the CFL has in the bank. While leagues such as the NHL, NBA and NFL collectively turn a profit each season, the CFL loses anywhere between $10 and $20 million a year.
The CFL is currently in the midst of lobbying the federal government for as much as $150 million in financial aid in the event of a cancelled season. No decision has been made as to whether they'll receive a bailout.
Given the league's financial situation, it's extremely difficult to envision the gate-driven CFL playing without fans in the stands. But Ambrosie hasn't ruled it out.
"Of the many different scenarios we have been investigating, all of those are on the table," Ambrosie said. "One, of course, being playing without fans at all; another being some kind of social-distancing protocol that would allow us to have some fans in the stadiums."
Another action plan that has been floated by the CFL in recent days is the idea of playing out of two "hub" cities. That would likely mean having two locations — one in the East, one in the West — that teams would travel to for games.
Though nothing has been confirmed, there's reason to believe, under this plan, each club would practise in their own facilities and then travel, most likely via bus, to the hub city to play games.
"We've got a committee looking at this very scenario. It is complicated and it is not an easy decision, it won't be an easy decision to make. It's complicated by all the moving parts and, of course, central to that are the health issues that relate to our players and our coaches and football operations, to our medical staff and all the people who would interact with our players. The work on that will continue in the days ahead."
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.
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