When you’re on the Canadian COVID-19 sports beat, you keep bouncing back and forth between hope and nope stories.
There was a lot of nope in April as event after event cancelled for 2020. There’s hope on the horizon for the NHL, NBA, NFL and major league baseball, with their major money TV deals allowing them to play in empty stadiums.
But the gate-driven CFL is now on the clock as to being able to open stadiums in September or have no season at all. And you can now place all of football at all levels in Canada on the hope-nope teeter-totter.
Coming of an NFL draft where Canadians Chase Claypool (49th) and Neville Gallimoe (82nd) were selected and Red Deer product Carter O’Donnell of the University of Alberta received serious signing money to go to camp with Indianapolis.
Thursday, the CFL draft witnessed a 116 per-cent spike in viewership as this year’s class was selected. But the question now becomes whether next year’s draft eligible players will even have a ‘this year?’
Forget about the CFL for the moment. What about football in Canada, period?
In each area of the country, the situations are different but in Alberta, it’ll definitely be a challenge.
The universities have suffered dramatic funding reductions due to the state of the Alberta economy and in Edmonton, where Eskimos 50-50 draws often contribute close to a million dollars to the Golden Bears, the junior Huskies and Wildcats and the programs at the other levels, much or all of that will disappear.
“Provinces, like Saskatchewan, seem to have a better idea of when they might be allowed to do something,” said Tim Enger, executive director of Football Alberta. “They’re in the discussion of the opening up phases in Saskatchewan. Others have darker tales to tell including being shutdown for a longer time than they expected.”
The six-team Prairie Junior Football League has teams in three provinces with three different COVID-19 decision-makers.
“That’s complicated by an August schedule start and a great deal of their financing from 50-50 money that doesn’t exist when the CFL teams aren’t playing games. Might the Huskies and Wildcats end up playing a best-of-five series and call it their season?
“The university teams have a better chance with their September start-ups. We’re hearing they are likely to cancel the Vanier Cup and playoff games leading to that and limit their season to the conference schedules,” he said.
There’s a possibility of reducing that to perhaps six games, but with a September start and ticket revenue not being a major factor, they have more time to make those decisions.
The big factor with the U-Sports teams will likely be if students begin the year with virtual classrooms online. If the students aren’t on campus, there likely will be no intercollegiate sports.
“Both levels are working on Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and Plan D right now,” said Enger.
High schools have their own problems.
“They’ll be guided by directions not only from Alberta Health Services but also their own school boards and the Alberta Schools Athletic Association,” said Enger. “They may have to consider training the only option to begin with. We know other provinces are looking at where you stay, train and compete within your own team until conditions with this virus improve.”
That may mean no season, or only a few games well into the fall.
There are a lot of creative programs already underway.
“We’ve redeployed the troops the best we can, like moving our coaching support program online and we’re really encouraged to see the number of high schools engaging online with their players and even holding virtual spring camps.”
When it comes to grassroots, Football Alberta is definitely thinking outside the box.
“We understand that the biggest obstacle all sports will face will be gathering limits and physical distancing. We can’t anticipate that Alberta Health will just throw a switch and say, ‘Go for it.’ There will be some stages we’ll have to go through,” said Enger.
With that in mind, Alberta is looking to create a COVID-19 one-season reinvention of football.
“We’re looking at the possibility of running all minor football as six-man competitions initially. That would limit roster sizes and coaching staff sizes and the clubs would simply field as many clubs as they could through tiering or even a draft.
“For example, in bantam, you could get four teams out of the Sherwood Park Rams” he said of the long-time provincial powerhouse that produced current NCAA Oklahama State star Chuba Hubbard.
“They’d be playing. And that’s the bottom line goal this year.
“It’ll be a little bit weird for a while at a lot of different levels, but I believe Canadian football, from top to bottom, will endure and be stronger for it after this mess is all over.”
On Twitter: @ByTerryJones
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