• The Canadian Press

    Federal government's extension of CEWS in budget is some good news for CFL franchises

    There was a little good news for CFL teams in the federal government's spring budget Monday. Ottawa extended the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program until Sept. 25. It had been scheduled to expire in June. The CFL cancelled its plans to stage an abbreviated 2020 season last August due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision came after the league was unable to secure an interest-free $30 million loan from the federal government. Despite not playing last year, the CFL was projected to receive more than $10 million in wage subsidy from Ottawa between March and December 2020. That figure would've surpassed $15 million had an abbreviated season been played. It's unclear, though, what — if any — subsidies the league has received so far in 2021. Shortly after the CFL shelved its plans for the '20 season, the CFL Players' Association told its members that those under contract to league teams would be eligible for wage subsidy from July through December. The union added the benefits could go beyond that if CEWS was extended, which it was to June 2021. Last year, the CFL approached Ottawa on multiple occasions for financial assistance it maintained was essential in order to stage an abbreviated season. CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie had said the league lost around $20 million in 2019 and a source familiar with the situation told The Canadian Press that not playing last year cost the CFL between $60 and $80 million. In its budget Monday, Ottawa said the subsidy rate would gradually decrease starting July 4. It will be replaced eventually with a new Canada Recovery Hiring Program, which is proposed to span from June to November. Last November, the CFL unveiled its plans to stage a complete 18-game season in 2021 that was supposed to kick off June 10. However, with much of Canada currently dealing with a third wave of the novel coronavirus, the league is expected this week to push back the start of the '21 campaign. Other factors are the CFL's return-to-play protocols still remaining before the various provincial governments as well as the slow vaccination programs nationally. When the CFL unveiled its '21 schedule, Ambrosie left the door open to the league possibly altering those plans. This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 19, 2021. Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

  • The Canadian Press

    CFL teams select four Australian punters in the first round of league's global draft

    TORONTO — Jake Ford knows where the next stop on his football journey will be, but remains unsure exactly when it will happen. Ford, an Australian punter/kicker, went first overall in the CFL global draft Thursday to the B.C. Lions. But given the COVID-19 situation in Canada, the 2021 season might not start June 10 as scheduled. "That's beyond my control," Ford said during a video conference. "There's no point me sitting around getting upset . . . I've just got to do what I've got to do." Ford, 28, was one of four Australian punters taken in the first round. The others were: Joseph Zema (sixth overall by Montreal); Cody Grace (No. 7 by Calgary); and Joel Whitford (No. 8 by Hamilton). The CFL cancelled the '20 season due to the global pandemic after being unable to secure a $30-million, interest-free loan from the Canadian government. The league's return-to-play protocol continues to be examined by provincial health officials. At least one isn't sure when approval might come. "We're not simply in a position to sign off on a return to play, " Ontario Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Lisa MacLeod told reporters Thursday. “We were getting close toward the end of March but I think it’s been very clear the health conditions across Ontario are not at a place where we can sign off on return to play. "I will say on a bright side is the work I'm doing at the jobs and recovery committee of the cabinet does include what a framework would look like . . . but unfortunately just given the health-care situation we find ourselves in now that has all been delayed." Last week, the Ontario government issued an emergency shutdown and stay-at-home order for residents. On Thursday, the province reported 4,736 new cases, a single-day high. This season, CFL teams must carry two global players on their active rosters and they'll earn $54,000 apiece. Ford, a native of Shepparton, Australia, played in the American-based Spring League in 2020. He moved to the U.S. in 2016 to attend the University of Oregon and also spent time at Saint Augustine's University in North Carolina and Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas. Ford played rugby and Aussie rules football growing up before being invited to Prokick Australia, which helps Australian athletes transition to American football. "I've always had a big kick and that transitioned into punting," Ford said from Little Rock, Ark. "I watched a lot of the CFL, I watched a lot of Josh Bartel (an Australian who's a CFL free agent after stints with Hamilton, Saskatchewan and B.C.), Ty Long (former CFL punter with L.A. Chargers) and Richie Leone (Ottawa punter). "It's something I have good knowledge about and I'm excited to get up there and play." Denmark's Steven Nielsen, a six-foot-eight, 307-pound offensive tackle, went second overall to the Edmonton Football Club. Nielsen, a Copenhagen native, attended high school in Indiana and played at Eastern Michigan before attending the Jacksonville Jaguars' training camp last summer. Something Nielsen will have to adapt to in the CFL is a defensive lineman lining up a yard off the ball. "I like to play aggressive in the pass game as well," he said. "I like to get on guys and bull them around but it's going to be hard now with that yard in between. "I'm just excited to play football again. It's been a while since I put on a helmet and got to ball around some guys." Nielsen also isn't worrying about when he'll head to Edmonton. "I'm going to put it in the back of my head and keep training and staying in shape," he said. "Whenever the opportunity happens, then I'll be ready go to." Ditto for Tigie Sankoh, a defensive back from England who was taken No. 3 by the Toronto Argonauts. Sankoh, who spoke to reporters from Africa, isn't concerned about Canada's COVID-19 situation. "I've been wearing my mask, I think I'm cool," he said. "I've been working out so I'm just going to keep doing that until I get a call telling me to come up." Sankoh, 23, was born in Sierra Leone and grew up in Maryland before moving to London with his family at age 15. He signed as a free agent with the Cleveland Browns in 2018 as part of the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program, spending two years on the practice roster. The Grey Cup-champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers took Les Mauro, a linebacker from Japan, fourth overall. Mauro grew up in Wichita, Kan., and played at the University of Texas-San Antonio, graduating in 2018 with an exercise science degree. Mauro then spent two seasons with the Asahi Challengers of Japan’s X League. The Saskatchewan Roughriders took German running back Christopher Ezeala fifth overall. The five-foot-11, 248-pound Ezeala spent 2018-19 on the Baltimore Ravens practice roster as part of the International Player Program Pathway. Following the selection of the remaining three Australian punters, the Ottawa Redblacks completed the first round taking French receiver Anthony Mahoungou at No. 9. The six-foot-three, 210-pound Mahoungou, 27, played collegiately at Purdue. Thirty-six players from 18 countries were picked over four rounds. Australia had the most players taken (seven), just ahead of Japan (six). This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 15, 2021. The Canadian Press

  • Source: Ottawa won't provide CFL with interest-free loan in 2021
    The Canadian Press

    Source: Ottawa won't provide CFL with interest-free loan in 2021

    TORONTO — Once again, the CFL will not get an interest-free loan from the federal government. The two sides have maintained informal dialogue since last August when the CFL cancelled plans for an abbreviated 2020 season. That decision came after the league was unable to secure a $30-million interest-free loan from Ottawa during the COVID-19 pandemic. A source familiar with the discussions said there also will not be an interest-free loan this year. The source was granted anonymity because neither the league nor federal government have revealed the nature of their discussions. The CFL unveiled a full 18-game schedule for all nine teams last November that's slated to begin June 10. But with the league's return-to-play protocols still before the various provincial governments and nationwide vaccination programs still in their infancy, a postponement of the '21 season appears to be a strong possibility. When the CFL unveiled its '21 schedule, commissioner Randy Ambrosie did leave the door open regarding the league's future plans. The source added the CFL-Ottawa talks have been more about educating the league with not only existing federal assistance programs but also those that have been offered since August. Despite not playing in 2020, the CFL was projected to receive more than $10 million in wage subsidy from Ottawa between March and December 2020. That figure would've gone past $15 million had an abbreviated season been played. It's unclear, though, what — if any — subsidies the league has received so far in 2021. Shortly after the CFL cancelled its 2020 season, the CFL Players' Association told its members that those contracted to league teams would be eligible for wage subsidy from July through December. The union added the benefits could go beyond that if the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) is extended, which it was to June 2021. Last year, the CFL approached Ottawa on multiple occasions for financial assistance it maintained was essential to stage an abbreviated season. Ambrosie had said the league lost around $20 million in 2019 and a source familiar with the situation told The Canadian Press that not playing last year cost the CFL between $60 and $80 million. Any government support would be with the caveat that football will be played for years to come. And with that would come financial transparency from the CFL regarding its future. However, a return to the field isn't the most crucial element for the CFL's nine teams. It's important that play resumes with fans in the stands as the league is gate-driven with all nine franchises relying heavily upon ticket sales to help achieve their bottom line. So pushing back the start of the season could allow more Canadians to receive COVID-19 vaccinations and thus potentially be able to attend games in larger numbers.. Earlier this week, Ottawa reached an agreement with Air Canada — which has been battered by the global pandemic — with much-needed assistance. The company also had to commit to refunding customers who had their flights cancelled last year, Ottawa will provide Air Canada with up to $5.9 billion through the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility, a program aimed at supporting large Canadian employers who have lost revenue due to COVID-19. The government will provide the airline low-interest loans worth up to $5.4 billion and take an equity stake in it by purchasing $500 million in stocks. Air Canada also agreed to restore flights on nearly all suspended regional routes, cap compensation for company executives at $1 million annually and suspend share buybacks and payment of dividends to shareholders over the course of the loans. This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 14, 2021. Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press