Commissioner Randy Ambrosie stopped short of guaranteeing 2022 CFL season during Grey Cup week

Photo courtesy: Justin Dunk

Commissioner Randy Ambrosie was careful with his wording regarding the 2022 CFL season.

During his state of the league press conference at the 108th Grey Cup in Hamilton, Ambrosie was asked if he has commitment from all nine teams to play in 2022.

“Well, the answer is right now I’ve got nine teams, and I’ve got nine governors, and I’ve got a plan for the 2022 season. I know no reason to expect that we will have anything but a resounding success in 2022,” Ambrosie said.

“We have one or two of our teams, as you all know, that we need to do some work on. We think this is the time to own a CFL franchise. We think this is the time to lean in and grow the business together.”

After the Canadian government refused to provide a $30 million interest-free loan, the board of governors voted to cancel the 2020 season. The CFL reportedly lost between $60 and $80 million in last year deciding not to play amidst the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. While CFL owners believe they made the right choice for their pocket books, it unquestionably damaged the league’s reputation with fans and players alike.

The three-down league was able to complete a shortened 14-game regular season in 2021 which was capped off by a highly entertaining 108th Grey Cup in Hamilton. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers came back from a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat the Tiger-Cats 33-25 in overtime, but that game threaded the needle when it came to the COVID situation across the country.

Less than a week after the sold out event at Tim Hortons Field, a surge in cases of the virus related to the highly transmissible Omicron variant has led to event capacity restrictions being reinstituted across the country, with some fearing another full lockdown could be on the horizon.

In professional sports, the NFL and NHL are dealing with record highs in positive tests, with both leagues being forced to postpone games this week. For once it appears the CFL got lucky, crossing the finish line of its season before disaster could strike.

In the midst of new levels of public health anxiety, the league unveiled its 2022 schedule on Thursday, complete with a pre-season and a full 18-game slate. While that provides a comforting path forward, we’ve seen schedules thrown by the wayside before and professional sport is once again being asked to adapt on the fly.

There is no telling what the situation will be when the CFL is slated to return to the field on May 23, 2022, but the only certainty is that COVID won’t be going away anytime soon. The league will have to learn to live alongside the virus once again, something they succeeded in doing this year, but failed to accomplish in 2020.

As is his style, Ambrosie has offered no clear guarantees for the way forward — ensuring his mouth doesn’t write cheques that the owners are unwilling to cash — but the CFL cannot afford another disastrous pandemic slip-up.

If we are really to believe there is no reason that 2022 will be anything other than a resounding success, the planning for every possible pandemic scenario must begin again. Hopefully, this time with a little more transparency.