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May 17, 2021

Steinberg’s MMQB: Feeling optimism in the air

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

Summer is just around the corner. And, after 14 months of adjusting to this pandemic world, it actually feels like that once distant light at the end of the tunnel is approaching fast.

Vaccines are open to the entire population in some provinces and that will soon be the case in the rest of the country. It’s hard not to get excited about what the next few months hold. It’s also hard not to start thinking of a world with CFL football back in our lives.

When the league announced their 2021 Return-to-Play, August 5th was the date targeted to start a 14-game season. Knowing some of what we’ve heard in recent weeks, that planned start date seems like a realistic one.

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“We’ve committed to our governors to present them with a matrix around the middle of June,” CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie told me last month. “That clearly explains what’s going to have to happen in each market to make a season happen. Frankly, I am confident that we’ll deliver something very positive. Beyond all of that, we’re building backup plans and then backup plans to backup our backup plans and we’ll build a couple of plans to support the double backed up backup plans.”

Everything we’ve heard from the commissioner and other league and team officials in recent weeks suggests the CFL is ready to be nimble and flexible to make a 2021 season happen. That’s why last week’s news from Ontario premier Doug Ford didn’t feel like a huge blow to the league’s chances to start on time.

“We need to do everything in our power to protect this summer for all Ontarians,” Ford said. “My goal is to have the most normal July and August possible. Obviously, that won’t mean large sporting events or concerts.”

While I’m fully aware the CFL has three Ontario teams, that news from Ford feels like something the league can work around. Because of Ambrosie’s “backup plans to backup our backup plans” and “plans to support the double backed up backup plans,” solutions to potential problems seem far more attainable than they would have even a few months ago.

Perhaps the REDBLACKS, Argonauts, and Tiger-Cats could start their seasons with a chunk of road games before returning to Ontario when it’s deemed safer to host fans. It was Ambrosie himself who suggested something like that when the league announced Return-to-Play plans in late April.

“We are prepared to be creative as well as prudent,” Ambrosie wrote. “For example, if we are unable to host fans in the East…we are prepared to start play in the West, provided eastern teams can return to their home provinces, and play in front of their fans, later in the season.”

And, knowing how provinces out west have been talking recently, that option doesn’t seem out of the question at all. As Saskatchewan opens vaccines to everyone 12+ later this week, premier Scott Moe has vowed to “fill that stadium” later this summer.

“I’m not certain that we will get it right full,” Moe clarified a little further when talking about his goal being achieved this summer. “But we most certainly do want people to get into Mosaic here this summer.”

In BC, top doctor Bonnie Henry suggested spectators could start returning to sporting events in the late summer or into the fall, although very cautiously. The Lions have already said they have a tentative model that could allow somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 fans in the lower deck of BC Place.

None of this is fully concrete or guaranteed, of course. Nothing is these days and things can change so quickly and unpredictably. That said it feels like we’ve gotten more good news these last few weeks than at any other point since the pandemic started. Coast to coast, the overall situation seems to be improving rapidly, even if a third wave has provinces like Ontario and Alberta very much on high alert.

Football fans in this country have been looking for positive things to latch onto for the longest time, even before the 2020 season was cancelled. And, sports fans or not, Canadians have been starved for good news for much of the last 14 months. That’s why it’s easy to understand why May has felt like such a positive month for many.

Targeting August 5th as a start date seemed like an attainable goal back on April 21st when the Return-to-Play announced was first made. It left league officials plenty of time to work with local health authorities and also left room for the Covid-19 situation to improve across the country.

With what we’ve heard in the news for the last few weeks, that August 5th date, or something close to it, feels even more realistic. I’m optimistically keeping my fingers crossed.

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