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CFL names Winnipeg tentative hub city for possible shortened season amid coronavirus

Scott Moe learns during press conference about CFL ‘hub city’ decision
WATCH: During a press conference on Tuesday, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe heard about and responded to the CFL’s announcement that Winnipeg has been tentatively chosen as the “hub city” for a possible 2020 season.

The Canadian Football League says Winnipeg has tentatively been chosen as the hub city for a possible 2020 season, pending final approval from health and safety officials in Manitoba.

In a release Tuesday, the league says the selection was made by a committee of CFL team presidents from teams not among those bidding to host the season.

Winnipeg, Saskatchewan and Calgary had all made a bid to be named the league’s hub city amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Read more: Manitoba to make bid for Winnipeg to be a CFL hub city, should season go ahead

“All three proposals – from Saskatchewan, Winnipeg and Calgary – were excellent and all three would make superb hosts,” said CFL Commissioner, Randy Ambrosie, in the league’s release.

“We look forward to returning to Saskatchewan for Grey Cup in 2022 and we remain immensely proud of the tremendous Grey Cup that Calgary hosted just a year ago.”

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The CFL has yet to say definitively whether or not it will play a shortened season this year.

The 2020 regular season was scheduled to kick off June 11 but was postponed due to COVID-19.

The league said Tuesday it’s hoping to play a shortened season starting in September, with all games played out of a single city. That hub city would see players and coaches live in a protected “bubble” consisting of hotels, practice fields and a stadium which will host each game.

Read more: Manitoba’s chief public health officer sees merit of Winnipeg CFL hub idea

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But the league says much needs to be accomplished before it will commit to the shortened season, including a new collective bargaining agreement with the CFL Players’ Association, significant federal government support, and approval from public health authorities.

Two sources said Tuesday even if the two sides successfully amend the CBA by Thursday — the CFL-mandated deadline — players concerned about their safety will be allowed to opt out with impunity.

Last week, Hamilton Tiger-Cats receiver Brandon Banks — the CFL’s most outstanding player last year — tweeted he wasn’t planning on playing this season.

The sources were granted anonymity because the CFL and CFLPA haven’t formally announced details of their ongoing negotiations.

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The sources said the two sides continue to discuss the logistics of American players coming to Canada being tested before their arrival here.

‘It’s very positive’

Winnipeg Blue Bombers CEO Wade Miller is optimistic a deal can be reached.

“We’re working really positively with our players,” Miller said during a telephone interview. “Everyone is looking for a solution to get our players back on the field playing football.

“It’s very positive.”

Predictably, Miller wouldn’t comment about any specifics being discussed.

Coronavirus: Pallister pushes for Winnipeg to be named a CFL hub city, should season go ahead
Coronavirus: Pallister pushes for Winnipeg to be named a CFL hub city, should season go ahead

On Monday Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister announced an offer of $2.5 million to help pay for accommodations, transportation, practice field rentals and more. Saskatchewan offered $3 million later in the day, but the league still settled on Winnipeg.

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Manitoba’s plan calls for a 60-game schedule and Grey Cup to be played in Winnipeg.

Read more: CFL denies reports Winnipeg would be hub city for shortened 2020 season

The Manitoba plan also calls for all players to be tested upon their arrival to Winnipeg. That could create a risk, given many players would be coming from the U.S., where COVID-19 has caused far bigger problems.

But the sources say talks continue about players being tested prior to boarding their flights to Manitoba. And once in Winning, the plan would be for all CFL team officials to be in a virus-free bubble.

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Recently, the Canadian government determined the Toronto Blue Jays couldn’t play at Rogers Centre because the pandemic had made it unsafe for players to travel between Canada and the U.S. regularly.

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But Miller doesn’t feel that situation applies to Americans coming to Canada to play football.

“I think that was a different scenario,” he said. “You’ve seen it with the NHL having players here so I think the NHL is a better example of what the CFL would be doing.”

Federal financial help

Earlier this month, the CFL submitted a revised financial ask to Ottawa for roughly $42.5 million in aid.

In April, the CFL asked the federal government for up to $150 million in assistance in the event of a cancelled 2020 season due to the pandemic. The new request covers operating costs and player salaries for a shortened campaign and includes a letter of support from the CFLPA.

Read more: Rick Zamperin: CFL’s newest coronavirus plan is way out of the box

But the CFL’s revised request will require co-operation from the six provinces its franchises operate within. That’s because Ottawa is dealing with the league’s offer via the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), which is a federal agency but also a crown corporation, meaning the federal government can’t mandate financial assistance for the CFL.

The BDC is essentially a bank with lending criteria and the CFL is unlikely to qualify given its financial state. To secure financial assistance, the league would likely require the Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. governments to serve as guarantors on any funding provided.

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Future of the CFL remains up in the air
Future of the CFL remains up in the air

That could be an issue as Ontario sports minister Lisa MacLeod has stated there are many other sectors within the province that also require government help.

Read more: Canadian Football League submits revised financial request to federal government

If an abbreviated season is deemed a go, the expectation is the players could report to the hub by mid-August. After a one-week quarantine, training camps would then be open, paving the way for regular-season games to begin in September.

A 60-game season would mean each team plays six regular-season contests. The top eight would make the playoffs, with the final two teams meeting in the Grey Cup game.

—With files from The Canadian Press

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Manitoba’s CFL hub city bid
Manitoba’s CFL hub city bid