This post is written by Troy Durrell
CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie held his annual State of the League address on November 16th in front of fans virtually attending the conference waiting to hear the league’s plans for the 2021 season.
With games being cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ambrosie fielded questions from TSN’s Sara Orlesky who asked about a range of topics from the Halifax expansion, plans for the 2021 season, and how American players would be able to get across the border should the pandemic be ongoing. I went into the address with a little bit of hope that we’d get some concrete answers about the CFL’s future and came away a little underwhelmed but not really surprised by most of his answers. I came away with some positives and some negatives on Ambrosie’s 30-minute address.
We’ll start with the positives. As a guy who is normally a pessimist, it was refreshing to hear so much optimism from the CFL Commissioner in a year that hasn’t brought us much to celebrate. Ambrosie talked about the effectiveness of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine and how it gave him an added jolt of optimism. He also sounded fairly confident that there would be football in the new year, saying a 2021 schedule was being released “very soon”.
“Just this morning I shared with my team that as soon as I see that we’ve got sign off from all of our stakeholders, we’re going to publish a schedule very, very soon,” Ambrosie said.
“We’ve got a schedule planned for 2021. In the not-too-distant future, CFL fans from coast to coast to coast will get a chance to pick their spots, mark their calendars and make sure that they’re going to be front and centre for CFL football in 2021.”
A planned schedule is great news. It gives fans the chance to see that the league is indeed planning to play to some degree, whether it be a full 18 game, 21-week schedule or a potentially shortened season, it gave me hope that we would be seeing CFL football in some capacity. He also mentioned that as of right now, the league was indeed planning for the 108th Grey Cup to be in Hamilton, the first time the city has hosted since 1996 saying that he hopes it’ll be the celebration that we’re all longing for when life returns to normal.
Another positive was that the league was still ongoing in talks with Schooners Sports and Entertainment about a potential tenth club in Halifax, something that I personally thought would get put on the backburner and pushed off as a project that would resume in the next couple of years. I think adding a team in Halifax would make the league more legitimate by having an even number of teams and would truly have fans from coast to coast.
“We’re excited about Halifax and the prospect of a tenth franchise,” he said. “The economic impact of a new stadium. 1,400 new jobs would be created. 100 million of economic growth that would result from a stadium in that region.”
Hopefully, we hear more news on that front in the next year or so. Halifax was recently awarded an NLL franchise in which they saw great team success and fairly decent attendance from game-to-game, averaging just under 8,000 people per game in the 11,000 seat Scotiabank Centre in Halifax. I would have to think that number would at least double or triple, as the Atlantic Schooners would be a maritime team, not just a team from Halifax.
While there were some positives, there were definitely some cons that came away from the town hall. While I understand that COVID-19 is forcing the world to make day-by-day changes, I was disappointed that Ambrosie didn’t talk about what ‘return to play’ options were being discussed by league officials. We’ve seen in the news from insiders Justin Dunk, Farhan Lalji and Dave Naylor that the league was reviewing a number of different scenarios from games with close to full capacity to the bubble. Why couldn’t he divulge into these talks? He didn’t have to give us all the information, but give the fans something to work with so we know what to expect.
Same with his answer about how they planned on getting Americans over the border if we were still in the midst of a pandemic when the season was set to start.
“I’m happy to report we’re looking at all kinds of options, keeping our doors open,” Ambrosie said. “And hopefully all of those things will come together because we’re excited about 2021 and beyond, and we’re going to make it happen.”
He basically danced around the question and didn’t give us a legitimate answer about the plans they had. To me, it came across like he was just wishfully hoping that the world would be sorted out by mid-May or whenever they decide to start training camp and that they didn’t really have much of a plan. I assume that’s obviously not the case but that’s how it came across with his answer, as it did when he was asked about screening processes for fans to get into stadiums and possible funding outside of government assistance. Fans were hoping they’d get some definitive answers on these questions and I don’t think they got that.
It was certainly a mixed bag from Ambrosie. There was some good and there was some bad. It was nice coming away feeling good about seeing the CFL on the field again in 2021, that the Grey Cup will hopefully be held in Hamilton and that the Schooners were still a reality. On the flip side, it was disappointing that we basically heard what we’ve been hearing from Ambrosie over the last couple of months. That they were reviewing all options and that they’d have more information in the coming weeks and months. Hopefully, that actually comes to fruition so we can have a semi-normal off-season and can get back to football in 2021.