‘I do feel responsible’: Ambrosie on CFL season’s demise

The potential solution was made in Winnipeg, a bubble city in a COVID-friendly province.

One of the factors that ultimately led to the historic loss of the 2020 CFL season was also made in Winnipeg: Commissioner Randy Ambrosie.

The financial crater left behind will be significant, and that lost buck stops with Ambrosie.

“I’ve never met a leader that I respect that doesn’t take responsibility when things don’t go well,” Ambrosie said on a media conference call, Monday. “So I have to feel and I do feel responsible for the fact that we’re not going to play this season. The honest answer is in all things there are things that we can learn. I have looked back on how this all unfolded, and there are things that I would like to have done differently. You try to learn from those things and move on.”

Ambrosie fumbled his first attempt at gaining federal government support, leaving politicians unimpressed that he was asking for up to $150 million without the support of the CFL Players Association or a more comprehensive business plan.

They say first impressions go a long way, and when he subsequently returned with a smaller hat in hand, he was ultimately rebuffed.

But not before taking a public beating from players and union officials.

Meanwhile, other leagues, from the fledgling Canadian Premier League soccer outfit to the NHL and NBA, re-started without help from the taxpayer.

“It is frustrating,” Ambrosie said. “But we went into this knowing that our challenges are unique. In a couple of those cases you’re looking at very small entities… and the big leagues, the NHL, the NBA, the financial resources they had at their disposal to throw at a hub as they have, we don’t have.

“So obviously you feel disheartened, that you wish you had those kinds of resources at your disposal. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We tried everything.”

What the league did throw at the proposed hub-city format was supported by the local levels of government.

Ambrosie saw a real opportunity, not just to get players back on the field and cashing cheques, but to grab the Canadian sports spotlight.

“Where the NHL season and the NBA season would end and we would really have some space to tell our story, even in a truncated season,” he said. “To really put our football on display and really take centre stage in Canada.

“What we really needed in the end was some financial support from the federal government that never materialized.”

As disappointed as Blue Bomber president/CEO Wade Miller was on Monday, he wasn’t pointing his finger at his fellow U of M Bisons alumnus or blaming a disjointed effort.

“I don’t know, there’s not many commissioners that have led through a pandemic before,” Miller said. “Very difficult. We’re different than other leagues, because we’re a gate-driven league. We have our own challenges. But by the end, players, coaches and everyone was aligned to play a hub city.”

Vowing to come back better and stronger than ever, Ambrosie on Monday offered no concrete road map of how to get there.

Part of the problem, of course, is the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.

“We obviously have some challenges to overcome, but I am confident we’ll have nine teams take the field in 2021,” he said. “What has become obvious to us is we have the opportunity to run the league differently than it has been run in the past.”

He talked about more cooperation between teams, repeated the need for teams to reach deeper into their communities to gain new fans and regurgitated his vision of a more global league.

“We will be the biggest global football league in the world,” he vowed.

Just being a football league again will be accomplishment enough.

‘Catastrophic’ for CFL

While the news didn’t come as a shock, it still hit former Blue Bombers hard to hear the CFL season get cancelled.
“It’s very disappointing, super deflating,” Canadian Football Hall of Famer Doug Brown said on Monday. “The CFL has so many fantastic story-lines, we’ve missed so much. It’s a huge part of the country’s fabric and entertainment and heritage, just completely gone for an entire year. It’s catastrophic.”

The former defensive lineman feels for current players, whose careers are often so short as it is.

“Some guys will never come back from this,” Brown said. “To lose an entire season, even if you’re in your prime, it’s hard to recover from.”

The Bombers aren’t making any players available for comment until Tuesday, but running back Andrew Harris, 33, took to Twitter to post what looked like a tongue-in-cheek view of his future.

“Time to get a hair cut and get a real job,” the Grey Cup MVP tweeted.

Down in Atlanta, Milt Stegall, another Hall of Famer, was coming to grips with what had looked inevitable.

“This is looking like the first time in the last 25 years where I won’t spend a day in Canada,” the receiver-turned-broadcaster said. “It’s unfortunate. I was down, but I wasn’t that surprised. There were just so many hurdles.”

A lack of funding from the federal government quashed plans for a six-game regular season and expanded playoffs.

Former safety Paul Bennett, a Hall of Famer from the 1980’s who has remained in Winnipeg, wonders how many fans will be lost.

“Here’s the scary part,” Bennett said. “They’re going to find new ways to spend their disposable income. When people can do without it for a year and they find other things to do… how many season tickets will be lost because of that new way of thinking?”

The ex-players said they didn’t know enough to come down hard on the way CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie handled the crisis, although from afar it didn’t look great.

“I’d like to have seen a little bit more continuity, a little better messaging, from the commissioner,” Bennett said. “It looked like it was a little disjointed.”

Brown agreed the optics weren’t pretty.

“They’re certainly not going to package this up in a handbook,” he said. “And present it as how to handle a pandemic.”

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