Following U Sports season cancellation, CFL assures aspiring pros chance for evaluation

The Canadian Football League watched as COVID-19 eliminated the season for its top national talent feeder system.

U Sports — along with the AUS, OUA and Canada West — made the decision to cancel the 2020 football season. The CFL’s league office was well aware of the developments.

“We empathize with the administrators forced to make a difficult decision and with the athletes, many of whom are undoubtedly disappointed that they will not be able to play their sport anytime soon,” the CFL said in a statement.

“We will continue to discuss the path forward with our colleagues and fellow football leaders at U Sports. And we want to assure those who aspire to a playing career in the CFL that we will continue to consider all options for evaluating great young Canadian players and inviting them into our league.”

57 U Sports players were selected out of 73 total picks (78.1 percent) in April’s CFL draft. The OUA led the way with 28 selections, followed by Canada West at 14. The Montreal Alouettes picked the most Canadian university players of any CFL team with 10. In all, 21 of 27 U Sports football programs had at least one player chosen.

Players had to get creative in the lead-up to the draft due to the coronavirus cancellation of combines and pro days. A number of prospects circulated videos performing athletic testing events, including the bench press, vertical jump, and 40-yard dash. It’s possible that prospects will have to be innovative ahead of the 2021 draft because of the lack of a season.

Over 700 U Sports athletes have been drafted into the CFL since 2003 with approximately 200 Canadian university football standouts earning permanent spots on league rosters each year. CFL teams are required to start seven nationals and employ 21 Canadians on game day.

Four U Sports/CIS alumns were CFL all-stars in 2019, Hamilton Tiger-Cats offensive lineman Chris Van Zeyl, Calgary Stampeders offensive lineman Shane Bergman, Als linebacker Henoc Muamba and Ticats safety Tunde Adeleke.

Meanwhile, Edmonton Eskimos offensive lineman Matt O’Donnell, Alouettes offensive lineman Kristian Matte, Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive back Mike Edem, Riders punter Jon Ryan and former Tabbies kicker Lirim Hajrullahu were recognized as divisional all-stars last season.

Top end talent is developed by U Sports universities, however, the fact football will be halted for a year at its institutions around the country, could cause players eligible for the 2021 CFL draft to play in the Canadian Junior Football League in order to provide fresh film for scouts to evaluate — if any of the the CJFL conferences are able to play amid the pandemic.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers superstar running back Andrew Harris is a proud British Columbia Football Conference product. Saskie’s veteran offensive lineman Dan Clark played for the Regina Thunder and earned CFL all-star status for the first time in 2019. The junior route is a path less tried and tested, but for a number of athletes it could be the best option considering the situation.

For the future, hopefully it’s just one year away from the field for Canadian university teams coast to coast, otherwise the CFL’s CAN-CON could be disrupted. U Sports is a vital provider for the league with a capital ‘C’ at the start if its name.