'Full-go mode' for 2021 CEBL season, says commissioner Mike Morreale

After one false start, Canadian Elite Basketball League commissioner Mike Morreale says it’s “full-go mode” for the 2021 season. As pandemic restrictions begin to loosen across the country, the CEBL has been given the green light from the four provinces in which it plays to move forward.

League moving forward with June 24 start date, 14-game schedule

Niagara's Trae Bell-Haynes is seen above during the CEBL's 2020 Summer Series. Commissioner Mike Morreale said Monday the league is on track for its June 24 start date to return to home markets. (CEBL)

After one false start, Canadian Elite Basketball League commissioner Mike Morreale says it's "full-go mode" for the 2021 season.

In April, the league announced it was delaying its start from June 5 to June 24 as Canada battled a third wave of COVID-19.

Now, as restrictions begin to loosen across the country, the CEBL has been given the green light from the four provinces in which it plays — B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario — to move forward.

"We're on to Plan A, which was our initial plan and had to be changed and delayed a few times. But we're ready to go June 24," Morreale told CBC Sports on Monday.

The CEBL was the first professional sport to return in Canada after the pandemic began, with its two-week Summer Series held in St. Catharines, Ont., last July and August.

But the league will return with its regular 14-game schedule to its local markets in Ottawa, Hamilton, Niagara, Guelph, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Fraser Valley in 2021.

"We had moved to push back the start of the season for this very reason that we're experiencing now — and that is the hopeful reopening of all provinces in the country," Morreale said.

WATCH | Our Game, a documentary on the 2020 CEBL season: 

CEBL on CBC - Our Game

5 months ago
With survival on the line, this documentary takes an exclusive inside look into how Canada's professional basketball league, the CEBL, set up a crucial second season amidst a global pandemic. 1:33:37

Even back home, the arrival of fans in the stands will lie in the hands of the provincial governments, just as with the NHL playoffs.

Morreale says there is more opportunity to host larger crowds in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Regardless, the main goal of "Plan A" was simply to return home.

"Because of the way we approached [this] at the outset, this is icing on the cake. And it's great for our fans, it's great for a business. It's good for the players to eventually, hopefully, get that atmosphere back into those arenas," Morreale said.

One casualty of the delay is the loss of the so-called Northern Showcase game, which was supposed to feature CEBL all-stars vs. the Canadian men's national team as a tuneup for the latter ahead of its last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament.

Due to Team Canada's revised training schedule, which will mostly take place in Tampa, Fla., pandemic protocols rendered the game impossible.

Trae Bell-Haynes of the Niagara River Lions is also part of Canada's 21-man training camp roster.

While the 2021 season may mark a league simply regaining some normalcy, future seasons may see even more experimentation from a league that is already adopting the target-score Elam Ending full-time in 2021.

Funding pitfalls

Besides the anticipated expansion to Montreal in 2022, Morreale says there could be outdoor games and international events.

"We had many iterations of that contemplated ready to go for this year," Morreale said of the outdoor games, "which we didn't pull the trigger on because we were unaware of what would happen."

Adding to the uncertainty of the season was a lack of funding from the government — even just requesting loans, the CEBL was repeatedly turned down.

The league was accepted into the wage subsidy program, while Saskatchewan recently reached out to the league to say it would consider some funding. Otherwise, the money tap has been mostly shut off.

"It is a very difficult thing for me to accept because this sport is the fastest growing sport in this country and it's the sport that is most recognized by immigrants and most played by the teams and the youth," Morreale said.

"You don't have to look too far to see the funding that's taking place in hockey and what that has resulted in from [Canada's] presence on the world stage. And I think that basketball needs and deserves that similar support."

Still, with teams back home and the season on the horizon, Morreale is optimistic about both the present and future of the league.

"[I feel] like we've moved past the stage of worry into the stage of preparation," he said.

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