After the CFL announced the postponement of the 2021 campaign on Wednesday, moving the new start date to August 5 and culminating with the Grey Cup on December 12, many around the league were filled with tremendous optimism over the new-found clarity.
For some players, it just felt like more of the same.
“Let’s be honest, there are players who are cautious,” CFLPA president Solomon Elimimian told Tim Baines of the Ottawa Sun.
“We know what happened last year – we had a deal, but they decided not to play. We understand with the COVID pandemic there’s a big variable – nobody knows where we’ll be at in August.”
After the Canadian government refused to provide a $30 million interest-free loan a year ago, the board of governors voted to cancel the 2020 season. The CFL reportedly lost between $60 and $80 million last year and are set to lose millions more if any kind of season is played in 2021.
That puts any return to play plan on uncertain financial footing and players have already shouldered the costs, with 67% taking pay cuts for 2021. For many, hard choice had to be made.
“My heart goes out to the players, a lot of them have had to make tough decisions. We’ve always encouraged guys to do what’s best for themselves and for their families,” Elimimian said.
“If you have a job that’s not paying, you have to seek employment elsewhere. Guys have chosen to go other routes because they had to.”
Return to play still must be approved at both the provincial and federal level, but more importantly a “significant” number of fans must be allowed in stadiums in Week One to proceed, a number estimated to be around 25% capacity.
Despite those caveats, Elimimian is was made hopeful by the CFL’s announcement.
“The first sentence in the statement was strong … ‘We will play CFL football in 2021’ … that gives us hope. This gives our members a timeline, something to work toward,” he explained.
“This is what our members want, they want to know the CFL has a plan. Guys are excited just to have some clarity. There’s still caution, a lot has to happen and there’s a variable here that neither party controls – COVID.”
Certainty on whether that variable will allow the CFL season to progress as planned won’t be achieved until mid-June, but the CFLPA’s message remains hopeful.
“It’s been a long process. I just tell the members to try and take one day at a time, do what you can, do what you can control. You have to have hope,” Elimimian said, emphasizing that another canceled season is not something he’s thinking about
“This game means so much to so many people. To go another year without CFL football would be truly devastating. That’s why we’re working every day – providing our players resources and information and working with the league trying to figure things out.”