Farhan Lalji sees potential for hesitant teams to use 2021 vote as leverage ‘in other situations’

Screengrab courtesy: TSN

The board of governors are scheduled vote on the proposed August 5 start to the 2021 season on Monday, June 14 and while an air of positivity surrounds the decision, nothing is ever quite that simple in the CFL.

“I think the appetite is there. Do we know for sure that’s what’s going to happen? No, we don’t, but from the people I’ve talked to there is certainly a lot of optimism that we are going to be able to move forward on that date,” TSN insider Farhan Lalji said on the SportsCage Wednesday.

“For some teams, like in Alberta and Saskatchewan, they may be operating with a great deal of certainty, but others are just going to be hoping the parachute works when we jump out of the plane.”

In late April, the CFL delayed its start date with a 14-game schedule targeted to kick-off on August 5, culminating in a currently planned December 12 Grey Cup. For the timeline to be met, the league requires ‘a significant number of fans’ to be allowed in stadiums by municipal, provincial, and federal governments.

While the prairie duo of Alberta and Saskatchewan have teased full stadiums, Ontario has been much less amenable to the CFL’s demands. All three teams in that province have banded together with other pro sports organizations to request some capacity in Stage 2 of the re-opening plan but nothing is guaranteed.

Ultimately, the vote will hinge on educated guesses by member clubs and while his colleague Dave Naylor believes the vote wouldn’t have been called without a reasonable assumption of unanimity, Lalji isn’t quite as confident.

“I don’t know if this needs to be unanimous. There are constitutional things in place that would suggest it doesn’t need to be unanimous, however we are operating in an unprecedented time,” he explained.

“There are going to be some people that everyone is going to look at and hold their breath to make sure they get a yes vote.”

It is an open secret in CFL circles that a few teams are less enthusiastic about the prospect of losing money on the 2021 season than others. The league has been down that road before.

“That is kind of what happened last August. There were a couple of teams that held the process hostage and just said we are flat out not going to play'” Lalji continued, adding that the teams in questioned refused to play out right.

“I don’t know if that happens again, but until those votes are cast you never say never in this situation.”

What has changed is the immense losses suffered by the CFL last year, reportedly between $60 and $80 million in 2020. Millions more will be lost this year, but another year out of the spotlight could be fatal. The hesitant teams know this, but will want guarantee a better financial setup for themselves in the future, which could be aided by trading their yes vote now for support on other projects.

“Would some teams use the situation of ‘we’re going to play and we don’t like it’ as leverage in other situations down the road? That’s entirely possible,” Lalji speculated. “That’s an unprecedented situation also.”

Other situations almost certainly means a potential business arrangement with the twice-resurrected XFL, with the biggest supporters of the ongoing talks between the two leagues also being the most linked to 2021 hesitancy in the Toronto Argonauts and Montreal Alouettes.

Whether they will use their hardball reputations as a way to advance the goal of an expanded and Americanized CFL remains purely conjecture, but Monday’s vote could matter long after 2021.