Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie delivers his annual state of the league address to reporters during the CFL Grey Cup week in Calgary, Friday, Nov. 22, 2019. Ambrosie says the league is examining all of its options to stage a 2021 season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol

Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie delivers his annual state of the league address to reporters during the CFL Grey Cup week in Calgary, Friday, Nov. 22, 2019. Ambrosie says the league is examining all of its options to stage a 2021 season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie says league exploring all options to hold 2021 season

The CFL had maintained it required government funding to stage a shortened season

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie says the league is examining all options — including a resumption of talks with the federal government, playing in hub cities and holding games with no fans or limited spectators — to get back on the field in 2021.

The CFL cancelled its 2020 season Aug. 17 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a decision that came after it was unable to secure financial assistance from Ottawa. The league had hoped to play a shortened campaign in Winnipeg.

The CFL had maintained it required government funding to stage a shortened season. In April, it presented Ottawa a three-tiered request that began with $30 million initially, more in the event of a shortened season and up to $150 million for a cancelled campaign.

In July, the CFL modified that request to $44 million before asking Ottawa for a $30-million, interest-free loan on Aug. 3. However, the two sides couldn’t agree on a deal.

“When we didn’t succeed in August in our discussions, the federal government did leave the door open to ongoing discussions,” Ambrosie said in a telephone interview Thursday. “My strong feeling is that part of the responsibility is to be optimistic that conversations can restart and take us somewhere.

“You have to be thoughtful about it, you have to be realistic. But in the end I believe there was a genuine interest in resuming conversations and you have to hope that will lead us to an outcome that helps us to get back on to the field.”

Ambrosie believes the relationship between the CFL and federal government remains strong.

“Look, I believe it would be foolish not to acknowledge the overwhelming challenge it takes to govern in this time,” he said. “To be negative and hostile towards them would be, I think, a mistake.

“You acknowledge we weren’t successful, then you just have to dust yourself off and be willing to open up a new set of discussions. Frankly, that’s how I’ve approached this, just to be a person with a positive energy and bring that energy to every discussion we have.”

But the CFL isn’t pinning all of its hopes for 2021 solely on Ottawa. Ambrosie said the league and its nine teams are considering all options for a return to the field.

That includes playing in a hub city, staging games in an empty stadium or before reduced crowds. All of those options would be difficult ones for CFL franchises, which all rely heavily on ticket sales to generate revenue.

Ambrosie expects to have some answers about the CFL’s future Nov. 16. That’s when he’ll hold a townhall with fans to kick off Grey Cup Unite, an initiative where the league will hold many of the events usually held during Grey Cup week virtually.

However, a big challenge facing the CFL is the uncertainty surrounding the novel coronavirus. It’s unclear what the numbers will be like next summer or when a vaccine might be widely available.

“We are looking at a no-fan scenario, we’re looking at a couple of levels of limited fans,” Ambrosie said. “The most optimistic version of our plan is the vaccine is out and taking a positive footing and we’re looking at hub city again because you have to account for all of these things as possibilities.

“But the challenge we’re all facing, not just football, is that we don’t know where the pandemic is going to take us in the short to medium term. We’re going to look at every possible way to get back on the field … one way or the other we’re going to try to the best of our ability to figure out a way to do it.”

Another issue for Ambrosie and the CFL is the state of the B.C. Lions following the death Monday of owner David Braley.

“Obviously it’s a conversation we’ll have with his family about the future of the team,” Ambrosie said. “We’re going to have to work through the challenge of David’s passing in the middle of this pandemic … but I really believe there’s a bright and great future for the B.C. Lions.

“I spent a lot of time with David as commissioner and I’ll tell you this: He’d give me a hard time because he liked to give me a hard time. But then he’d remind me at the end, ‘Randy, remember. You’re the commissioner. You’ve got a job to do and go get it done.’ I feel in my head and heart that what David wants from me today is to find solutions and to get this league going.”

The CFL has been one of the lone major sports leagues not to operate during the pandemic. Ambrosie admits that doesn’t sit well with him.

“It will always be, for me, disappointing that we didn’t but I do think it’s important to make some distinctions,” he said. “First of all, the NHL was largely through most of its regular season … when it went into the bubble to finish it off. Similarly with basketball.

“We’d not started and faced the daunting task of bringing together the largest group that we have to bring together every year, that being your pre-training camp roster. That made our situation considerably different than what some of the other leagues were facing. Now, it is what it is and you can’t moan about it but we did face some unique challenges. I can honestly say we tried everything we could to try to get back on our feet and came up a little short.”

A burning question remains what the CFL’s future will be if it can’t play again in 2021, especially considering the league reportedly lost between $60 and $80 million because of the cancelled season. That’s a scenario, Ambrosie said, he’s not considering.

“I just feel like we’re going to find a way,” he said. “Would it be good not to play in 2021? No way.

“But I know how much our fans want us back on the field and its through that lens I’m looking at all of our activities so that we make sure we have a good outcome in 2021.”

Ambrosie said the CFL has to examine how it does everything.

“Quite honestly I’m optimistic about everything,” he said. “I have to believe the work we’re doing, the appetite I feel for our game, the importance of football in Canada, the importance of the game itself and all that it stands for will lead us to being back on the field in 2021.

“Right now we’re looking at many scenarios. That’s a word we used a lot in the spring and summer. The time we sadly haven’t been playing has given us a chance to do that kind of work and come back not just in our previous version but in a new and really re-energized version of our league.”

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

CFL

Just Posted

Dancers from the Sts’ailes First Nation perform the eagle dance at a welcome banner dedication ceremony on Thursday, June 10. “Ey Swayel” is a Halq̓eméylem term translated as ‘a good day.’ (Adam Louis/Observer)
VIDEO: ‘A good day’ for Agassiz school as Sts’ailes welcome banner is dedicated

Banner hangs above the school’s entrance, welcoming students, staff and visitors

Missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs was found deceased on Thursday evening (June 17).
Body of missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs found

Hobbs was reported missing Monday after leaving his job site in Langley

UFV athletes were honoured for their strength and perseverance during the pandemic. (UFV photo)
Fraser Valley athletes recognized in year without sports

UFV Cascades athletes honoured for strength shown during the pandemic

A tenant walks in front of her home on Boundary Road on Friday, June 18, 2021 after it was destroyed by fire the night before in Chilliwack. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack family homeless after fire rips through house on Abbotsford border

Turtle rescued, no one seriously hurt following Boundary Road fire in Chilliwack

Wild rabbits are all over Chilliwack, but people often think they’re someone’s lost pet and try to ‘save’ them. But the owner of Chilliwack’s Reptile Room says good intentions can have bad consequences for wild animals. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Owner of Chilliwack’s Reptile Room asks people to leave wild animals in the wild

Amber Quiring says people who think they’re helping are actually doing more harm than good

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Police are asking for public assistance in locating Anthony Graham who has been charged with the murders of Kamloops brothers Carlo and Erick Fryer. (RCMP photo)
2 charged, suspect at large in killings of B.C. brothers linked to gang activity: RCMP

Kamloops brothers Erick and Carlo Fryer were found deceased in May on a remote Okanagan road

Albert Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney unveil an opening sign after speaking about the Open for Summer Plan and next steps in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta 1st province in Canada to lift all COVID-19 public health restrictions

70.2% of eligible citizens 12 and older in the province have received a dose of the vaccine

Fraser Health registered nurse Ramn Manan draws a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at a walk-up vaccination clinic at Bear Creek Park, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Honour our fathers’ with COVID-19 vaccine protection, B.C. urges

109 new cases Friday, 75 per cent of 12 and up immunized

(Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Trutch Avenue in Chilliwack to be renamed to remove racist taint

New name to have Indigenous significance as Chilliwack takes new step toward reconciliation

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a joint news conference following the EU-Canada Summit, in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday June 15, 2021. Trudeau says Canada is on track now to have 68 million doses delivered by the end of July, which is more than enough to fully vaccinate all 33.2 million Canadians over the age of 12. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine deliveries enough to fully vaccinate all eligible Canadians by end of July

Three in four eligible Canadians now have their first dose, nearly one in five fully vaccinated.

A search is underway for a 75-year-old fisherman who went missing near Port Angeles Thursday evening. (Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)
Search continues for angler missing between Port Angeles and Victoria

Canadian, U.S. Coast Guard searching for 75-year-old man reported missing Thursday evening

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant grew in Canada this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s public health agency reports spike in confirmed cases of Delta variant

More than 2,000 cases of the variant confirmed across all 10 provinces and in one territory

Most Read