The Canadian Football League ended more than 15 months of uncertainty on Monday with a unanimous vote to begin a shortened 14-game 2021 season on Aug. 5.
The commitment from all nine members of the board of governors means teams can cement their plans for modified quarantines and training camps, which are scheduled to begin in early July.
Monday’s vote brought to a close months of speculation over whether the league would play at all this season, after it chose to sit out the 2020 season when its efforts to finance a bubble format in Winnipeg fell short.
The economics of a 2021 season won’t be good but the league’s prospects began to brighten in recent weeks as COVID-19 caseloads have dropped across Canada and vaccination rates have soared.
Over the past several months, the league and its teams have been in constant communication with local government and health officials regarding their needs for reopening.
Some provincial governments, such as Alberta and Saskatchewan, have advised the CFL in recent weeks of a strong likelihood that fans will be able to return to stands in significant numbers by August. Others, such as Ontario, where three of the nine CFL teams exist, have been more cautious but are open to a possible return of fans by that time.
The league is expected to release its amended schedule later this week.
Though the CFL is back, there will be some noticeable changes to this season.
For example, fans attending games are expected to be subject to safety protocols that include such things as masks and social distancing, and limits to crowd sizes in stadiums may vary across the country.
The league is expected to play most of its games in August in Western Canada, and the Grey Cup game in Hamilton won’t take place until Dec. 12.
There is also the possibility the CFL could expand its playoff pool from six to eight teams as a means of driving more revenue from a season in which every team is expected to lose money.
Though a return to the field in 2021 is certainly good news for a league whose very existence was threatened by the pandemic, some questions about the league’s future remain up in the air.
The most significant of those involves discussions with the owners of the XFL about a potential collaboration that could see the two leagues join forces into one.