Commissioner Randy Ambrosie says the CFL continues to discuss potential contingency plans to its 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
No decisions have been made yet but Ambrosie said league officials are aware the clock is ticking.
“We haven’t decided yet on a go, no-go date . . . (but) we know it’s out there,” Ambrosie said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “What we’re trying to do is educate ourselves and be in a position to make really smart, informed decisions when we have the information that’s needed.
“We’ve got a little bit of time and that time can be an ally in helping inform us.”
On Tuesday, the league postponed its global draft — which was slated for April 16 — and said it will now coincide with the opening of training camps. The CFL draft remains scheduled for April 30.
Earlier, the CFL cancelled regional combines in Montreal and Edmonton as well as its national combine in Toronto. Ambrosie said rescheduling the global draft was a no-brainer.
“If we’re going to take this initiative to the next level . . . we’ve got to give coaches and GMs an opportunity to evaluate these players,” Ambrosie said. “We’re convinced . . . this group of players is special and there’s many of them who can make contributions to CFL teams.”
Even if the CFL draft goes ahead as scheduled, it’s difficult to see how the league can’t push back the start of training camps, and by default, the ’20 regular season. On Tuesday, the Tokyo Summer Games, which were scheduled to begin July 24, were postponed until 2021 due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
CFL rookie camps are scheduled to open May 13 with training camps slated to begin four days later. The first exhibition game is set for May 24 with the regular season kicking off June 11.
Integrity of the regular season
However, at the heart of any contingency plan would be the integrity of the regular season and how many games would constitute a valid campaign.
“We had that discussion this week,” Ambrosie said. “If you started with that idea, what do you need to have in order to be able to call it a legitimate regular season?
“We’re trying to not write these things down in indelible ink because what we’re trying to do is to keep talking about them with the hope by the time we finish the debate, we’ll have much more clarity and be able to make informed decisions.”
The pandemic has hit the sports world hard, forcing the NHL, NBA, MLS and Major League Baseball to either suspend or push back the start of their seasons. Meanwhile, the Canadian Hockey League has cancelled the Memorial Cup, which was scheduled for May 22-31 in Kelowna, B.C.
Conventional wisdom suggests the Grey Cup game — slated for Nov. 22 in Regina — remains very much etched in stone and that any decision on a abbreviated season would be reached by working backwards from the CFL title game. Ambrosie said there are no plans to reschedule the league’s marquee contest.
“Right now we’re holding to the idea that we’re going to have a Grey Cup game in Regina on Nov. 22,” he said. “We know the Grey Cup has always brought Canadians together and this might be a year where that’s extra special in light of what we’re all going through today.”
‘Prepare for the worst’
The CFL Players’ Association has addressed the novel coronavirus outbreak. In a letter to players, new union president Solomon Elimiminan said COVID-19 “will impact 2020 training camps and the CFL season.”
“And I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you to prepare for the worst,” the Saskatchewan Roughriders linebacker wrote from Arizona. “No decisions have been made, but there have been discussions with the CFL around whether training camps can start on time as well as what a modified start to the CFL season could look like.”
Elimiminan added the union is looking into whether players can apply for unemployment insurance if ‘the season cannot start on time or at all.” The CFLPA also has a website for players to receive COVID-19 updates if and when they become available.
“To their infinite credit, Solomon and Brian (executive director Brian Ramsay) shared the letter so we knew it was going and I think it’s a good, healthy message,” Ambrosie said. “I appreciated their letter.
“Underlying it all is an optimism that together we’re going to get this pandemic under control and ultimately get back to our more normal existence as a society and that would include football.”
Ambrosie said the message in the CFLPA letter is similar to the one he’s delivering to CFL governors.
“I’ve been describing it as pragmatic optimism,” he said. “You’ve got to look at everything, you have to be conscientious.
“This thing came out of nowhere and has changed the world in very short order. We’re talking about best-case and worst-case scenarios and we’re contingency planning.”
Virus strikes B.C. Lions organization
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit home with the CFL. Last week, the B.C. Lions announced a member of their football operations department had tested positive for the virus.
Ambrosie said if the CFL must play an abbreviated season, there are contingencies for that in its broadcast agreement with TSN.
“There’s a lot of language in our agreement that spells out various disruptions,” Ambrosie said. “I have such confidence in our relationship with TSN that at an appropriate time, if and when it becomes necessary, we will sit down as partners.
“That’s the way the relationship has been from the beginning and that’s the way I’ll continue to approach it.”
Ambrosie also has reached out to officials with Schooners Sports and Entertainment, the group looking to bring a CFL expansion franchise to Halifax. It was to ensure all was well with them and their families but also re-iterate his vision of having the Atlantic Schooners on board to make the league a truly national entity.
“I reminded them this is still such an important part of our long-term strategy and vision for a truly coast-to-coast league,” Ambrosie said. “This (COVID-19 pandemic) might cause a slight pause, but I’m hoping nothing more than that.”