New CFL schedule raises as many questions as answers following 2020's cancellation
Is it light at the end of the tunnel, or heavy on wishful thinking?
The Canadian Football League unveiled its schedule for the 2021 season at the same time the 2020 season would have been wrapping up, had COVID-19 not turned the planned Grey Cup Week festivities in Regina into a virtual version called Grey Cup Unite last week.
But it hasn’t exactly led to players rushing to circle dates on their calendars.
“I mean, we had a schedule last year,” Edmonton quarterback Trevor Harris said over video conference from his home in Waldo, Ohio. “But it’s encouraging to hear. Going from hearing nothing at all to we have a schedule, it definitely gives us some hope.
“And I think the vaccine news from the last couple weeks, at least from what I’ve heard here in the United States, is encouraging. So, if we can kind of get those things ramping together and get the country vaccinated and do whatever we need to do to play safely, then obviously it’s going to help. Whatever helps us get back on the field and play some ball.”
Back in Edmonton, COVID-19 restrictions have been put in place since the CFL released its schedule Friday, with positive tests on the rise. And the current maximum of 10 people for outdoor gatherings is a far cry from seeing the usual crowd of 30,000 for a football game in Commonwealth Stadium.
But with Edmonton’s season opener, set for June 12 against the visiting Saskatchewan Roughriders, still seven months away, anything can happen.
“Who knows? We did have two different schedules come out last year and we still haven’t played a game,” said former Edmonton quarterback Matt Nichols, who won a Grey Cup with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2019 and is scheduled to visit Commonwealth with his Toronto Argonauts on Oct. 22. “While it’s nice to see something like that to give you a little more optimism, nobody really knows where this thing’s going and how long it’s going to take.
“For us as athletes, it’s extremely difficult because you hear two or three times over this last summer, ‘Alright, I’m training for a season that’s about to happen … OK, I’m not training for a season … OK, we’re going to do a bubble season.’ Just the ups and downs of training and trying to prepare yourself.
“Right now, I’m mentally focused on trying to be ready for next May, and I’ve always been a hope-for-the-best, prepare-for-the-worst type of guy. If we play, awesome. If we don’t, I’ll have plans in place to make sure that my family’s taken care of.”
The hope, Nichols said, is to hear plans are in place by the new year, with some sort of decision coming, one way or the other.
But seeing as how the NHL, coming off a successful Stanley Cup playoffs in an Edmonton bubble, still doesn’t have concrete plans in place yet for their next season, which had an initial target of Dec. 1, that could be too much to ask from the CFL.
Especially when having a schedule only raises more questions, considering the three-down league still requires revisions to its collective-bargaining agreement, has a log-jam of free agents to look forward to in February, will need to decide on another draft class in May and open training camps in time to line up with the pre-season kickoff slated for May 23. All the while following evolving public health guidelines across 10 provinces and relying on the Canada-U.S. border co-operating.
“Nobody has an answer for us, absolutely nobody,” said veteran Edmonton defensive tackle Almondo Sewell. “And it kind of sucks too when you’ve seen every other professional sport being played except for this one.
“Truly, that’s what honestly bothers me the most. You have the two sides who just can’t come up with an agreement right now. You have a whole 400-plus players just sitting there waiting. And on top of that too, nobody got paid.”
There was a time Sewell was Edmonton’s American player representative with the CFL Players Association. Watching the league fold the 2020 Season that Wasn’t looked all too familiar for someone who previously sat in on a couple of different collective-bargaining agreements.
“It’s going to be dragged down to the last second once again. It never ceases to amaze me, every time,” he said of 2021 actually getting the green light. “That (CBA experience) just left a completely bitter taste in my mouth. When you go on that side and you hear about the things going on behind the scenes, the more I hear my mother’s voice in the back of my head: ‘Go to school and become a doctor, baby.’
“It’s very disappointing.”
As for new Edmonton head coach Scott Milanovich, having a schedule is at least something to look ahead on, considering he has yet to take the field with his team.
“I had a hard time calling them during the summer because they’re going to have questions and I didn’t have the answers,” he said. “And the reality is, a lot of them knew more than I did because they’re tied in with the PA.
“So, that was frustrating as a coach. I was always taught if you don’t have the answer, tell them you don’t have the answer, go and get it and immediately get back to them. Well, that wasn’t happening. So, it was difficult for me to reach out to them: ‘Hey coach, when are we playing? What’s the plan?’ I don’t know, and that’s hard.
“The same thing’s going on right now.”
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge
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