CFL delays start of season to August, cuts schedule to 14 games

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CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie announced that his league will return to action in 2021, beginning in August. The shortened schedule will result in the Grey Cup being handed out on Dec. 12 in Hamilton, Ont.  (Rich Lam/Getty Images - image credit)
CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie announced that his league will return to action in 2021, beginning in August. The shortened schedule will result in the Grey Cup being handed out on Dec. 12 in Hamilton, Ont. (Rich Lam/Getty Images - image credit)

The Canadian Football League is pushing back the start of its season to August and is also cutting down the 18-game schedule to 14 games.

That means the Grey Cup is also being pushed back, now scheduled to be played on Dec. 12 in Hamilton, Ont.

"We will play CFL football in 2021," CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said.

"Our revised target date to start our regular season is August 5. I say 'target date' because our plans are subject to the state of COVID-19 across the country. A so-called 'third wave' in some provinces is forcing us today to postpone the start of our regular season, which had been scheduled for June 10."

Training camps were originally set to begin at the beginning of May with the regular season kicking off in June, but tightening restrictions across Canada in the midst of the ongoing pandemic has forced the league to pivot and come up with a different plan to return to the field in 2021.

Despite remaining optimistic the CFL will take to the field in 2021, Ambrosie warns there are still a number of factors in determining when and if they'll start on time.

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"So, what must be in place for us to kick off on August 5? Two things. [Number] one, the approval of public health officials across the country of our plans for protecting the health of our players, coaches, and ultimately our fans, so a 2021 season is safe.

"[Number] two, permission from governments to host a significant number of fans in the stands, in a significant number of venues at the start of the season, and in the rest of our venues soon after that, so a 2021 season is financially tenable for our clubs," he said.

For the first time since 1919, the Grey Cup was not awarded after the league cancelled the 2020 season in August.

In late-November, the league announced a full 18-game schedule that was set to begin in early June. At that time, the league said it was going to have to get creative with its schedule, putting a focus on regional rivalries to limit travel.

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They are once again signalling a level of creativity when it comes to redoing the entire schedule, now with 14 regular season games before the playoffs.

"We are prepared to be creative as well as prudent. For example, if we are unable to host fans in the East because of COVID-19, we are prepared to start play in the West, provided eastern teams can return to their home provinces, and play in front of their fans, later in the season," Ambrosie said.

It's no secret the CFL's existence relies on fans being in the stands. Prior to having to cancel the 2020 season, it came to light the league was bleeding millions of dollars. Playing without fans was not an option then and it's seemingly not an option now.

"The CFL depends on ticket revenue more than other professional sports leagues in North America. Fans in the stands account for at least half of our revenue. Our clubs already stand to suffer substantial financial losses this year. Playing without fans in the stands would dramatically increase those losses," Ambrosie said.

Ambrosie says the league has contingency plans in place "should factors beyond our control delay the start of the season" beyond the beginning of August.

There is no timeline at this point for when a new schedule will be released.

"The bottom line is we are optimistic we will have a season in 2021, culminating in a great Grey Cup," Ambrosie said.

"Everyone who loves the CFL can help us and their communities. Please, when it is your turn, get vaccinated. And please follow your local public health guidelines on measures including wearing a mask and social distancing."

In a statement, Ambrosie thanked the players, fans and partners of the league for their patience.