It’s an email I’ve been eagerly anticipating as we inch closer to a new CFL season, and on Tuesday it arrivedy.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have announced their training camp plans, with workouts beginning for rookies on Wednesday, May 11, and veterans reporting three days later for the official start to the three-week camp. The Bombers also indicated for the first time since 2019 fans will be able to attend.
It’s hard to believe that after a long winter, especially when you consider Mother Nature’s plans to paint the province white again this week, that the 2022 campaign is right around the corner. Even with a late end to last year’s season, with Grey Cup played in December, it still felt like a longer-than-usual break.
As is the case with every new season, it got me thinking about how different 2021 was, and what this season might look like. What I’m most curious about is how close to “normal” this season might look after 2021 was dominated by Zoom interviews and health protocols.
It’s something we talk a lot about as reporters who cover the league, and as the president of the Football Reporters of Canada, it’s among my duties to work with the CFL to come up with a media policy that serves everyone’s needs. My hope is with vaccination rates high and hopefully a decline in cases come June, we’ll be back in the locker room this year getting one-on-one time with players and coaches in order to provide readers with the quality journalism they expect and deserve.
Last season was a trying process at times, even if it was necessary to ensure everyone was safe and healthy. On that note, I thought the CFL as a whole did a great job mitigating the risk of COVID-19, including the Bombers, who didn’t have a single positive test until they returned home from celebrating their Grey Cup win in Hamilton.
So, I’m curious: what are you looking most forward to this season? Let me know, and together let’s build some excitement for summer and a new football season.
Now, let’s look back at the week that was in the three-down loop with the latest instalment of CFL Rundown.
1) Dan Ralph of the Canadian Press reported earlier this week that “it’s been an encouraging start” to talks between the CFL and the CFL Players’ Association in developing a new collective bargaining agreement. But Ralph is clear in his analysis of the situation that while the two sides have found common ground on some “secondary issues,” the talks have yet to include the more serious topics, “most notably the monetary ones.” And it’s going to be these issues that bring the most heat, as has been the case in previous years.
2) What will be one of the more interesting debates in these negotiations will be over the “naturalized” Canadian — a special status where an American player can qualify as a national so long as he’s been with the same team for three years or in the CFL for four. The theory behind the rule is to encourage less turnover on teams from year to year. Since the league permitted one-year contracts in 2016, continuity from one year to the next has been near impossible.
3) As TSN’s Dave Naylor pointed out this week, when the naturalized Canadian rule was added to the new CBA in 2019 (to take into effect in 2020), the league and the players had interpreted the meaning differently. As it turns out, the CFLPA, unlike the league, didn’t think the rule would affect the total number of Canadians required on each roster (21), only that each team required three players that fit the criteria. How they got to the day before it needed to be finalized — the CFLPA got its way — is interesting but speaks to some of the obstacles facing negotiations leading up to the May 15 deadline.
4) The naturalized Canadian rule isn’t exactly new; it was brought in during the early 1960s but was altered by 1965 over fears that Americans were squeezing out Canadian-born players. What’s more, this issue led to the creation of the CFLPA, which for decades has favoured Canadians, but the feeling now is Americans are demanding more support from its leadership.
5) If CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie is anything, it’s a hype man, always looking at the bright side of things. Call me a skeptic, but his recent comments to Montreal Alouettes Joey Alfieri on the likelihood of expanding to the east coast being an 11 on a scale of 1-10 is a bit of a reach. With COVID-19 and inflation denting the wallets of many, convincing any government to pitch in millions to help fund a stadium seems highly unlikely. But I hope I’m wrong; believe it or not, it’s happened before.
6) The Hamilton Tiger-Cats have tacked on the assistant coach tag to offensive co-ordinator Tommy Condell and defensive co-ordinator Mark Washington, while also extending their contracts through the 2023 season. While I’m sure it comes with an increase in pay, even if just marginally, I wonder if it’s a play to signal these guys are head-coaches-in-waiting and whether we could see more of this with other teams.
7) We’ll have plenty of time to talk about the Bombers roster but the question I’ve been getting a lot from readers is who will be the starting running back after Brady Oliveira and Johnny Augustine each signed fresh deals this offseason. History certainly suggests that Oliveira is the next man up with the departure of Andrew Harris, as it was Oliveira who earned the starts when Harris was injured. But don’t rule out Augustine pushing for notable playing time, as we’ve seen him perform well in spot duty. I just think Oliveira is the more durable of the two, capable of handling a more bruising workload.
8) I’ve seen a few way-too-early power ranking lists floated out there and for fun I’ve decided to join in on the action. The Bombers are easily the favourites to repeat for a third straight title, but here’s my full list: 1) Winnipeg; 2) Saskatchewan; 3) Calgary; 4) Hamilton; 5) Toronto; 6) Montreal; 7) B.C. 8) Edmonton; 9) Ottawa
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.
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