The Canadian Football League has announced a plan to cut its 2021 regular season from 18 to 14 games, while moving its start date back nearly two months from June 10 to Aug. 5.
The Grey Cup, originally scheduled for Nov. 21 in Hamilton, is now slated to be played on Dec. 12.
While a target date to resume play is a welcome bit of clarity for the CFL’s various stakeholders, the league stopped short of committing to play without governments lifting restrictions on fans attending games.
It all points to a period in mid-June when the league will have to assess whether its new start date is attainable.
“Aug. 5 is based on a lot of conversations with public health authorities that we would have a lot more information and will see a real decline as this third wave passes through,” said commissioner Randy Ambrosie. “With more and more people getting vaccinated, there’s a lot of indication that early June will give us more information for a final decision to go.
“In early June we’ll be collecting all of our data and be in contact with public health officials.”
Ambrosie said he could not be specific about what percentage of stadiums would have to be open to fans for the league to play, given the different capacities.
“We will work with each team and their local health authorities to see what is possible in their market,” he said.
The CFL’s announcement follows a meeting of club presidents and governors on Tuesday, roughly three weeks before rookies were due to report for training camp.
While a delay to the start of the season has been obvious for at least the past couple of weeks due to the third wave of COVID-19 in Canada, the league has been under pressure to reveal as much of its plan as possible.
The CFL has received at least verbal approval of its return-to-play protocol from four of the six provinces in which it plays, with Ontario and Quebec as the exceptions. That isn’t expected to be an issue once the third wave subsides.
But the issue of fans in stands remains a potential hurdle. If restrictions on fans in stands are lifted in Western Canada sooner than in Eastern Canada, the league is prepared to relocate early-season games to the west.
“We may think about taking our teams on the road from the east to play in a place where they may have opened up fans in the stands,” Ambrosie said. “There is a commitment to play in 2021 and all the work that will happen to where we can make a comfortable final decision to go.”
Making a decision to go could mean such things as eliminating preseason games, rookie camps or shortening training camp.
“All of those issues are up for grabs,” said Ambrosie. “Everything is on the table.”
A new start to the season will also require an amended collective agreement with the Canadian Football League Players’ Association.
“I’m confident we can work together to put together a plan,” Ambrosie said.
As for what happens if the league cannot commit to its Aug. 5 start date by mid-June, Ambrosie said the league would continue to press on with alternate plans.
“We have backup plans and backup plans to our backup plans … we are committed to playing in 2021,” he said.