Ready To Go: Commissioner Ambrosie sizes up ’21 season

After a season without football and all of the uncertainty that the pandemic has brought to our lives in general over the last year, CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie happily took a moment on Monday, June 14 to enjoy the good news.

With the CFL confirming it will get underway on Aug. 5 with a 14-game schedule and a Dec. 12 Grey Cup game in Hamilton, fans of the league, as well as its players and staff rejoiced.

“I think it was just delight, really,” he said to Donnovan Bennett on the Waggle, explaining what it was like to see the reaction on social media.

“(I’m) so happy for our players who I know had a tough time, as did so many Canadian families during the pandemic. To see that outpouring of joy was just…I think heartwarming would be an understatement. But I suppose heartwarming is appropriate.”

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As Bennett pointed out, every team in the schedule has a home game in August. He asked Ambrosie if that was an indication that the league believed provincial governments would be allowing fans in the stands in time for those home openers.

“It’s going to be an ongoing dialogue with provincial health authorities and we’re going to monitor things carefully,” Ambrosie said.

“Obviously another key area will be the continued push to get Canadians vaccinated. We are encouraging everyone in our ecosystem to get their vaccinations because that’s going to just help us get on the field and it’s going to help us keep each other safe.”

Something that Ambrosie touched upon in the season-starting announcement was the possibility of an altered playoff format. There is a window this season that could allow the league to jump from its traditional six-team format to an eight-team setup, which would leave just one club out of the playoffs. Ambrosie stressed in his conference call with reporters on June 14 that the plan was to stick with the traditional format for this year.

“For the moment, we are committed to our traditional approach to the playoffs. That’s what we’re going with,” the commissioner reiterated on the podcast.

“I think the issue here is that we all have learned to deal with the surprises that can develop and emerge, I suppose, as a result of the pandemic. So what we’ve done is really put a placeholder out for our ability to be flexible, if necessary.

“We announced our schedule with a lot of confidence, certainly, with a lot of enthusiasm. But we also know that given what we’ve experienced over the past 17 months, you have to be able to and be willing to adjust if needed. And I’d say that’s really what it is, is just a placeholder on an as-needed basis. If circumstances required that, we could make that change but it’s not part of our plan. It’s out there if it’s needed.”

With the pieces in place for the season to begin, American players will arrive in Canada on July 2, quarantine for a week and training camps will open on July 10. That will usher in a three-week training camp period to prepare for the league’s first game kicking off on Aug. 5 in Winnipeg, where the defending Grey Cup champion Blue Bombers host the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in a rematch of the 2019 Grey Cup game that for many of us, will feel like a lifetime ago. While this season is a big step to normalcy for Canadians in general, Ambrosie is aware that we’re not all the way back yet.

“We know we’re going to take everything one day at a time. There’s going to be nearly constant updates as things develop in our government and healthcare partners all continue to update their models. We’re going to have to be on top of those things every day,” he said.

“Obviously, some of the checkpoints here are getting our players into their CFL communities, getting training camps opened. We’re going to have to be and we will be incredibly careful.

“This will be different than it’s been in the past. We’ve gotten really good at having an off-season followed by a training camp and then a season. This one’s going to be different, we’re going to have to work harder and be more vigilant but my optimism and my confidence in our teams and in our partners to get us back on the field is very high.”

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