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, fans of the three-down league rejoiced at the new-found clarity.
Ottawa Redblacks safety Antoine Pruneau, who serves as the team’s CFLPA player representative, remains much more skeptical.
“I’m really 50/50,” Pruneau told Postmedia’s Tim Baines on Thursday. “I like the work that’s getting done recently. It feels good to have a target date, but we’re very much at the mercy of the virus right now.”
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.
Both those factors hinge entirely on the status of the pandemic, something Pruneau is well aware the league has no control over.
“I think the ownership groups want to play football, but we don’t know what will happen with the pandemic, we don’t know for sure it’ll be better,” he insisted.
“The more people that get vaccinated, it might allow us to have people in the stands. Those things make me more optimistic.”
CFLPA president Solomon Elimimian remains cautiously optimistic, encouraging players remain hopeful, but certainty on whether the virus will allow the CFL season to progress as planned won’t be achieved until mid-June.
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.
Several prominent players have already chosen retirement over playing the waiting game and Pruneau believes massive amounts could follow suit in the worst case scenario.
“Let’s say they cancel the season, I could see a lot of guys thinking, ‘I can’t put my family through this again, I have to move on,’” he explained.
“That’s why it’s crucial for us to play this year. If we can have a successful and safe 2021 season, it’ll be good for everyone. I know the fans want football back.”
While a CFL season remains uncertain, on that point there is no doubt.