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O’Leary: Light at the end of the tunnel for CFL fans

When you think of the CFL’s greatest moments, your mind should naturally go to the field.

Legends have been born at Grey Cup games and Eastern and Western Finals in the most frigid of November temperatures. Record-setting performances have been made under hot July and August suns, or the cool breezes of fall.

Then there’s Monday, June 14, 2021.

One of the most significant days in the league’s history unfolded during a global pandemic that cost the CFL its 2020 season. On Monday, the league’s board of governors voted to go ahead with its Aug. 5 start date, officially setting the wheels in motion for the 2021 season.

From the Nov. 24, 2019 Grey Cup to the Aug. 5, 2021 kickoff, it will have been 620 days since a CFL game has been played.

“To say this is a happy day for the CFL is monumental understatement. We’ve all been waiting for this for a long time,” CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said on a conference call with reporters.

“It was a thrill to make the announcement that we’ll kick off our season on August the 5th and we’ll be in Hamilton for what I think will be one of the greatest Grey Cups of all-time. A truly national celebration, not just of our great game, not just of our great teams, not just of our great players and coaches, but of what everything our league has meant, what our teams have meant to their communities and what our game has meant to Canada.”

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Training camps will open for teams on July 10. The league will unveil the 2021 schedule on Tuesday, with key dates for the coming year to follow on Wednesday.

The finer details of the season, including fan capacity at stadiums, will unravel as the league and its teams continue to work with various levels of government. Ambrosie said there wouldn’t be a league-wide policy on fan vaccinations, for example, citing that those decisions would come at a more local level.

“We are in conversations with health officials at all levels of government,” Ambrosie said.

“What we’re going to do is we’re going to just continue to encourage Canadians whenever and wherever possible to get their vaccinations because that’s the best way for all of us to stay safe and to get out of the crisis that has held us back now for some 17-plus months.”

While the 14-game schedule and its Dec. 12 Grey Cup date isn’t the norm for the CFL, the structure of the season will remain the same as past years. There is a window for an eight-team playoff format, Ambrosie said, but he was confident it would not be used this year.

“We are going to have our traditional East-West (setup),” the commissioner said.

“We did leave a small window open for a potential adjustment to the playoff structure but right now as it stands, we’re going to play our traditional six-team playoff format.

“If we’ve learned anything through these past 17 months together is that sometimes things change and you want to be able to accommodate those changes if and when you need to. I call it a placeholder more than anything else and should circumstances warrant a revisit then we’ll do that.”

 

With a recently re-worked collective bargaining agreement in place with the CFL Players’ Association and with all of the regulatory pieces in place to allow the league to get back on the field, Ambrosie’s joy and relief were evident on Monday. He thanked the league’s governors for all of their work over the past year and how it culminated in their unanimous approval of the return to play plan.

“Credit to our nine teams and the nine governors that speak for those teams because frankly, today’s vote (was) absolutely unanimous, enthusiastically unanimous,” he said.

“(The governors) came together because these men and women love our league and they love our game and they want to see us playing CFL football. They want our players to play.”

After a long, dark year for the CFL and its fans, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

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