CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie pulled no punches with his opening line of his statement on Wednesday in regards to the 2021 season.
“We will play CFL football in 2021.”
We won’t see the season kickoff on early June as originally planned because of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and tighter restrictions in much of the country.
The CFL has now targeted a start date of Aug. 5 to begin a 14-game season which will push the Grey Cup game back to Dec. 12 in Hamilton.
Edmonton Football Team president and CEO Chris Presson said the announcement provides clarity and optimism.
“Aug. 5 as our kickoff date is not only realistic but it’s got a likelihood of happening,” Presson said. “I think when we looked at all of the options from starting later to starting earlier we wanted to make sure we were not tone deaf to what is going on not only in our country but other provinces are having deeper problems than we are.
“I think we recognize that and I think we came up with a plan that’s real and it has some finality to it.”
There are some strings attached to an Aug. 5 start.
First is the approval from all levels of government and health authorities. It’s believed all four western provinces have approved the CFL’s return-to-play plans and health protocols.
Last week, the Ontario government — who is dealing with a massive third wave of COVID-19 — said it doesn’t have the time to look at the league’s protocols. Quebec, to this point, hasn’t granted the necessary approval.
Second, according to Ambrosie, is a “significant number of fans” must be allowed to attend games. Presson said the significant number isn’t set in stone yet.
“It will vary province to province, I can’t give you a number because what can we do here may not be what other provinces can do,” Presson said. “I can tell you in my conversations with government, they feel really good about that time frame (of Aug. 5). So I think we’re in a good space despite what’s going on right now.
“I feel good about our ability to host a significant number of fans, I just can’t put a number on that right now.”
Details on when training camp will begin are still being worked out, but camps are expected to begin in mid-July. It’s not known yet if any pre-season games will be played.
The next hurdle is figuring out when players can start their quarantine period.
All player will quarantine first at home. Then, for those who live in the U.S., they will be able to cross the border into Canada to begin another quarantine period before camp.
Presson said much of the season will depend on the roll out of vaccinations and people getting those vaccinations. He stresses players who are in the U.S. need to get their vaccine when it becomes available.
“I think the safest way, and this is an obvious statement, for us to get over the hurdle is for the vaccination to be done while the guys are still the U.S. so that when they get here we can have more of a limited quarantine period because they will have been vaccinated,” Presson said.
A revised schedule for all nine teams should be released in short order.
A decision on the targeted date of a CFL season will be determined in mid-June.
If western-based teams have restrictions lifted before their eastern counterparts, those teams will come west to begin the season. Presson said if the scenario arises of eastern teams needing to play games against each other out west, he would gladly allow Commonwealth Stadium to be used as an option to host games in addition to home games for the Edmonton Football Team.