Editor's Note: This article is a guest contribution written by Canadian Football League handicapper, Nick Christenson. We look forward to more of Nick's contributions to Pointspreads.ca when CFL games resume.
If 2020 were a normal year, the Canadian Football League regular season would several weeks into its regular season by now. But as we all know, 2020 has been anything but a normal year. The schedule as released back in January has been
tossed in the trash, and the planned opening of the league has been pushed back at least twice so far with no assurance whatsoever that the current plan won't also end up in the circular file. What expectations should we have for this upcoming season, if any?
First, let's take a look at the current plan. On June 18, CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie released a statement on behalf of the league outlining their current response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Frankly, it's a lot longer on words than it is on specific ideas, but that's not the league's fault. It's difficult to make plans in the face of such an uncertain future.
The current plan, such as it is, has the CFL regular season starting in September at the earliest. If the season does occur, it will be considerably shorter than originally scheduled. It's length and the ways it may be shortened are currently up in the air, although an eight game season has been bandied about in some circles. If it is played, current plans have the 108th Grey Cup to be hosted by the city of the team with the best record rather than in Regina, and this game may occur as late as December. Apparently, the CFL is considering reducing the number of cities in which games are played to a small number of "hubs", and perhaps to only one, and it is considering quarantining players as well as team and league staffs in "bubbles" to reduce the chance of contagion.
One of the biggest issues the CFL faces is that traditionally half of the players that make up its league come from outside the country, and it doesn't help matters that the vast majority of them come from a place whose response to the pandemic has been nothing the embarrassment of the developed world. The league still hasn't held its Global Combine, much less the Global Draft, and it seems necessary that all participants in such an event would have to be quarantined for up to two weeks
before mixing with other players. It's hard to imagine that players would agree to this without being paid, and it's also difficult to imagine that a cash-strapped league would be excited about doing so.
It would be hard to believe that the 2020 season could survive any delays beyond September, and with U SPORTS deciding to cancel its 2020 fall championships, and no end to the pandemic in sight, the possibility for another postponement seems increasingly likely.
If the issues involved in getting the league ready, getting the new players on teams, in bubbles, and in game shape are all addressed, there are still enormous challenges. Right now it seems inevitable that stadiums full of fans would be a non-starter. Would the stands need to be completely empty, or would some socially distanced fans be allowed in the stands? Is this a decision that would be made at the national level or province by province? Would regulations governing
this be the same in all areas? One important thing to consider is that unlike their American sports league counterparts, the CFL receives a larger share of their league revenue from gate receipts. As B.C. Lions owner David Braley has pointed out, it would be an enormous financial burden to play these games without any audience at all, perhaps so much so that it would cost more to run the league without fans in the stands than it would to cancel the season altogether.
So, what will happen? Here's where I leave the realm of reporting and enter the realm of speculation. If I were to be offered a bet on either side at 1:1 odds, I would be willing to make a significant bet that the 2020 CFL season simply will not happen at all. If it does go forward, I seriously doubt it would run to conclusion as planned. I believe the combination of dealing with the economic ramifications, scheduling, and international issues would be daunting enough, but what will happen if two offensive linemen for some team test positive for the disease, and the whole offensive line of that team has to be quarantined for two weeks?
Would there be forfeits? Would they eventually have to hand out the Grey Cup to the team who can field a majority of roster furthest into the season? There are too many people that will need to be quarantined when, not if, positive cases are revealed, even if the players, coaches, trainers, cafeteria workers, housekeepers,
and janitors are all willing to go through this level of isolation to begin with. I think the reality of this will eventually become unavoidable to the league, and they'll choose to call of this season, probably sometime in July. I just don't see another plausible outcome.
What will this mean for the league? I have no special insight into the financial state of the league and their teams' owners. I can only speculate based on their public pronouncements, but losing a year will be a tough blow to absorb in the best of circumstances. If there is someone with deep pockets who can backstop the league, and if 2021 gets us back close to normal, then it's entirely possible
that 2020 will end up being a bump in the road, nothing more than an asterisk in the record books. If not, then we might see some lasting damage to a league that, at least on the field, has been running along pretty smoothly for the last several years. How specifically such damage might manifest itself would be pure
guesswork at this point.
I dearly hope that circumstances allow a safe, even if abbreviated, CFL season in 2020. If it does happen, it might be an opportunity to continue to expand the league's fan base, especially in that big, presently beleaguered and sports starved media market to the south. But this path would be very difficult, and it doesn't seem all that likely to me.
Nick Christenson can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org