CFL·Q&A

Cancelled CFL season would be 'devastating financially,' Randy Ambrosie says

CBC Sports asked CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie a number of questions regarding the uncertainty that looms for the league and what a cancelled season would mean for its future.

Commissioner discusses uncertainty of league's situation with CBC Sports

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie has asked the federal government for up to $150 million in relief funds. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

On Monday, the Canadian Football League announced training camps, set to open in the middle of May, were being postponed indefinitely in wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The regular season is currently set to open on June 11, but with training camps already pushed back the league is now considering a number of options on how to move forward. The CFL had already cancelled its national combine and two regional combines while postponing its April 16 global draft. The draft presently remains set for April 30.

CBC Sports asked CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie a number of questions regarding the uncertainty that looms for the league and what a cancelled season would mean for its future.

CBC Sports: Commissioner, you're calling it 'pragmatic optimism' regarding playing this season. What does that look like for the CFL right now?

Randy Ambrosie: I think it starts with the obvious desire to play as soon as we can to get these great athletes on the field. We are reminding ourselves daily that we can only do that when it's safe for the players, coaches and football operations people and safe for our fans. That's the reason we play the games. We play for the fans. We have a desire to play but we have a fight on our hands and I'm just glad that the players are home with their families looking after their loved ones.

CBC Sports: This is no doubt a very fast-moving and ever changing situation, what are you and the league doing right now to stay on top of all of the scenarios?

Ambrosie: Frankly like everyone else we're all consuming a lot of information and listening to the government updates. They've done an incredible job. This is a hard time to be a leader and I'm watching them, and I'd have to say, I'm very proud of how they're handling this.

All that math we did on combinations and permutations in high school, we're getting a chance to exercise that. I didn't do too badly and it's a good thing because we're going to need it. We're doing a lot of scenario planning.

WATCH | CFL makes its latest postponement:

Saskatchewan Roughriders GM Jeremy O'Day says the team will adjust and a season of any length would be great. 1:07

CBC Sports: What sort of timelines or important dates have you set out?

Ambrosie: We've avoided that for the most part because what's been obvious is what seemed like a hard date two weeks ago becomes very different two weeks forward. Things are changing so quickly. We're not installing an artificial timetable. We're looking at all the components of what would go into a training camp and what are the compressed scenarios looking like. Talking about various season scenarios. We just don't know enough to make an informed decision just yet.

We want to keep all options available. We want to play as much football as we can. The best-case scenario is we all do our part, we all stay at home and wash our hands until they're raw. Help one another. Cheer on the medical heroes and then at some point the government will say we got through this together and resume normal life. We're sticking to the business of doing a lot of planning.

CBC Sports: How much is this affecting the business side of things right now and what would it mean to have to cancel the season?

Ambrosie: I can tell you without a doubt that a cancelled season would be devastating financially. Almost all your revenue streams go away at that point. But you have to account for that as a possibility. The pragmatic optimist in me and my faith in what's been going on and how the medical community is handling the crisis, I believe we'll get through this and play football this year. I'm not indulging in the doomsday scenarios yet.

CBC Sports: What are you hearing from players across the league right now including from the CFLPA?

Ambrosie: We're talking at least twice a week and it's been great. I give total marks to the CFLPA keeping the communication open. Players have a lot of questions like everyone else. They're no different and wondering how this is going to unfold and are looking after their families. We're just trying to be conscience of those questions being asked and having these conversations and the CFLPA. So we're helping each other communicate. I wish there was a silver bullet to this to make it better. But because there isn't, we're using good, honest dialogue as our guide.

Randy Ambrosie said considering the constantly changing global landscape due to COVID-19, the league has avoided setting firm dates regarding off-season events. "We're not installing an artificial timetable." he said. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

CBC Sports: Whose advice are you listening to right now and how will you ultimately come to making a decision on the future of the league during this pandemic?

Ambrosie: We hope we can lean on the experts who will guide us. I can lean on the board of governors, a group of presidents who are determined to do the right thing. I'll ever have to be alone in that process. I'm not thinking about myself as an island. When it comes to these big decisions, I'm going to get to lean on a lot of great people and I believe when you combine the CFL family with government and medical community we'll make the right choice.

CBC Sports: Many have started to ask about big events like the game scheduled for Halifax and how the Grey Cup might be affected. Thoughts on that?

Ambrosie: We'll take this one day at a time and hope all of these things can happen. At this moment we're just sending our best wishes to the medical support staff and thanking them for everything they're doing. We're all part of Team Canada. We have nine teams in the CFL but today we're one team and it's called Team Canada. If we do our part, we can get past this crisis.

CBC Sports: What role can the CFL play in helping communities come together?

Ambrosie: Maybe sport will be more important than ever. There are a lot of negative forces in the world today. There are too often these voices of self-interest. There are people bent on building walls and I think when it's all said and done, we'll have to build stronger bridges. There has to be a healing process and sport can play a role in that by setting a good example. I'd love nothing more than to play a small part in that on behalf of our great league.

About the Author

Devin Heroux

CBC reporter

Devin Heroux reports for CBC News and Sports. He is now based in Toronto, after working first for the CBC in Calgary and Saskatoon.

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