TORONTO — Commissioner Randy Ambrosie gave the CFL some much-needed breathing room Wednesday.
Ambrosie told CFL season-ticket holders during a video conference the earliest the league could start the 2020 regular season is September. And even if football does return, Ambrosie removed the guarantee that the Grey Cup game would be played in Regina.
But Ambrosie again reiterated a cancelled ‘20 campaign remains a distinct possibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
By saying the season won’t start until September at earliest and leaving the door open to games without fans, Ambrosie buys the CFL some time to explore all options as the league continues to talk to all levels of government for assistance.
“It (an abbreviated season) is one of the scenarios we’re pursuing,” Ambrosie said. “But the truth is I think when we’re done, we’re going to be able to say more or less we exhausted all possibilities.
“What you have to do at the end is narrow it down to those that represent the best chance to play if we can and if not to make sure we’re ready to play in ‘21 and beyond.”
And Ambrosie said that includes entertaining the possibility of teams playing inter-division games during a scaled-down regular season.
The prospect of the CFL season starting in September isn’t new. Ambrosie told The Canadian Press in April, “there’s a lot pointing to September as being a reasonable person’s view of when we might be able to resume.”
Last month, the CFL postponed the start of training camps — which were to open last week— and pushed back the June 11 start of the regular season to July, at earliest.
The CFL has also called upon the Canadian government for assistance. The league asked for $30 million immediately, additional monies if the ‘20 season began late and up to $120 million for the worst-case scenario — the cancellation of the entire campaign.
“I think the conversation we’re having with the government is very important,” Ambrosie said. “We’re going to continue talking to them, we’re going to continue to look at the programs they’re creating and ones they’ve encouraged us to look at.
“We will be having conversations with the provincial and municipal governments as well. Essentially we have to be partners with everybody.”
The CFL is also changing its ‘20 Grey Cup plans.
Regina was scheduled to hold the game Nov. 22 but instead has been awarded the 2022 contest. Hamilton remains the 2021 Grey Cup host.
If there’s a shortened season, the Grey Cup finalist with the best regular-season record will host the CFL championship game. The contest could still be played in Regina if the Saskatchewan Roughriders were the finalist with the better record.
But Ambrosie said the CFL is also open to playing the Grey Cup in December if that helped the scheduling of regular-season games.
“Obviously with all the things that have been happening around the pandemic, having a traditional Grey Cup just isn’t possible,” Ambrosie said. “We are disappointed … but we’re looking forward to going back (to Regina in 2022).”
Ambrosie said the CFL has looked into a hub-city approach for the 2020 season, but wouldn’t divulge specific details.
“We think enough of it that we have a committee working on it,” he said. “What stands out on this particular issue is just how many moving parts there are.
“That doesn’t mean it’s not a viable option. It just means there’s a lot of moving parts.”
Ambrosie said playing games with fans — under strict social distancing guidelines — or without are both being considered.
“If the safety issues could all be attended to and we could work out the financial model, man, I’d still like to see our players perform,” Ambrosie said. “If I looked at it purely through the lens of knowing how hard players work to be ready to play and then we have this class of draft picks and how long they have waited for their shot to play pro football … I’d say, man, I’d vote for playing.
“But at this stage of my life, a little older and wiser I suppose, I know I have to take into account the health and safety and ultimately the financial considerations. Right now, we have to run these ideas to ground and we’ll make the right decision when we know more.”
Regardless of whether the CFL has a season, the league cancelled its Touchdown Atlantic game slated for July 25. The Toronto Argonauts and Roughriders were to meet at Huskies Stadium in Halifax.
“It’s our intention to come back (to the Maritimes) once this crisis passes,” Ambrose said. “We will continue to embrace Atlantic Canada as a critical part of the CFL’s future.”
Essentially, Ambrosie said the CFL is keeping all possibilities open before deciding what’s next. And with over three months before September starts, the league would appear to have the luxury of some time before having to make its next move.
“The best thing we can do is explore every option because in the end failure is not an option,” he said. “We’re not going to allow ourselves to be knocked down by this crisis.
“We have to find a way to stay on our feet. We have to be open to conversations with everyone. The timeline is when we believe we know everything we need to know to make the right decision. It’s not so much a timeline based on a calendar, it’s a timeline based upon information.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 20, 2020.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press