CFL Pass

Ottawa Redblacks feel the painful sting of cancelled CFL season

After the gut-wrenching news that the CFL will not play a 2020 season, many Ottawa Redblacks players are wondering when and where their next paycheque will come from.

After getting a hard ‘no’ on a $30-million interest-free loan from a federal government that seems to be handing out cash like it’s monopoly money, the CFL announced Monday there will be no 2020 for its players who will have to find another way to get paid. And this is what will really sting — the CFL Players Association had basically reached an agreement with the league on financial terms in amendments to the CBA.

Former Redblacks receiver Greg Ellingson (now with the Edmonton Eskimos) tweeted: “Man, today is a sad day.”

For some players, it’s way beyond sad — it could be catastrophic financially.

“It’s terrible,” said Redblacks player rep Antoine Pruneau Monday afternoon. “Some of the guys feel robbed — they’ve been working their ass off all year and they don’t have a chance to compete for a job and make a salary off football. They don’t have security for 2021, either. We all miss football. I would have liked to have seen what an eight-month off-season could have reflected on the football field.”

The CFL and its players association had a structure in place where salaries would have been pro-rated for six games. But there were several incentives — including housing and report bonuses, plus some guaranteed salary for vets — which would have made it much more appetizing.

“There was something in place that I think would have been accepted by our membership,” said Pruneau. “Our representatives in the ‘PA office did a tremendous job. They pushed real hard to get us incentive to come back and play football this year. That’s what’s so frustrating about all of this, I think it would have been something nice for the players to come back to.

“I was thinking (the season) would happen. I had started to talk to guys, telling them we had something that may work. Even after the announcement, I was thinking there must be something else lined up.

While the chances of a season seemed so remote a month or two ago, so much progress had been made by the CFL and the PA in the past couple of weeks that there actually seemed to be a chance that a shortened season would be played in a hub city, Winnipeg. Though there were still plenty of obstacles to conquer — including the government loan which would absorb some of the losses CFL teams would have taken from holding a season without paying customers in the stands.

“Disappointing is a good word for it,” said Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group CEO Mark Goudie. “If it was a month ago, I might have said I’m not surprised by it. But there were some reasons to be optimistic based on some of the discussions the CFL was having with the government the past couple of weeks. Some of the issues that needed to get ironed out — the health plan, the television plan and the agreement with the players association all happened. This was the last piece so I was starting to get enthused that this would be able to happen for our fans and players.”

“I’m just spitballing numbers, but the ray of hope went from a 10 percent probability to maybe a 30 per cent probability or maybe a little higher,” said Redblacks GM Marcel Desjardins. “I don’t think it was ever 50-50 – but this is just my interpretation from what I’ve heard and read. My expectation was never that high to begin with because there were so many moving parts — certainly three or four of them were very significant. You always knew until the government domino was accomplished, it was’t going to happen anyway regardless of what else was happening.”

Players, coaches, employees and fans – everybody was feeling the sting Monday.

“My first thoughts are with my players, it’s disappointing for their opportunity to earn a living,” said Redblacks coach Paul LaPolice. “There was a lot of hope, hope, hope, now this happens. It’s unfortunate. We wish we’d had the opportunity to play. The league has done its best to try to make sure there was an opportunity to play.”

“It’s disappointing for everybody, not the least of which is the players who are really suffering the most out of all of this,” said Desjardins. “Nothing good really comes out of this, it’s not fun for anybody. Let’s hope this uncertainty doesn’t last much longer and the whole COVID thing gets resolved in the not-too-distant future which will answer a lot of questions for everybody.”

So where to from here?

“Everybody’s time and attention went into figuring out what it would take to have CFL football in 2020,” said Goudie. “It’s a bad pun, but I think the league and players association are in hurry-up offence right now in terms of what the implications of this are and how it impacts players and contracts and teams. There’s some hope we can figure out a way to look after players financially. We’ll have conversations around the wage subsidy program with the government. The conversations are happening right now as we speak.”We’ll worry about that stuff right now, then start looking further down the road later.”

“I have a schedule of what I want to get done with the coaches, we’ll start that process,” said LaPolice. “We’ll take a day or two and let this all soak in. Then we’ll start doing what work we can do.”

“There’s going to be a 2021 season that will look different,” said Desjardins. “Until we know what those differences will be, it’s difficult to go full steam ahead.”

“It’s still a work in progress,” said Pruneau. “The focus has been 2020, we put all our effort into trying to make that happen so 2021 hasn’t really been discussed yet.”

Now unemployed, Pruneau isn’t sure where he goes from here.

“I have no idea (what I’m going to do),” he said. “But I don’t think it’s scary. I’ll find something, I’m not too worried. I’m going to digest this first, then I’ll move on.”


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