The Future Of The CFL?

When I checked my email inbox this morning, I found a missive from Gregg Drinnan, former sports editor of the Kamloops Daily News and now the creator of the blog, Taking Note.  Several weeks ago, I asked him if he had heard any updates from the CFL about their plans for a 2021 season over and above the announcement of a truncated schedule assuming that health officials gave the league a green light.  In this morning’s email, he sent along a link to an article in the Regina Leader-Post by Rob Vanstone.

That article reports an interview with Jon Ryan who is a native of Saskatchewan, a lifelong fan of the Roughriders and currently the punter for the team.  He had long career as a punter in the NFL with the Packers and the Seahawks before returning to the CFL.  He is about to turn 40 years old, so his career is winding down and he has the benefit of time and perspective to bring to a discussion of the status of the CFL.

Ryan is concerned for the league’s survival for a couple of reasons.  The more immediate concern is the ability of the league to get the approvals necessary to stage their games with fans in attendance.  League officials have made it clear that fannies in the seats are essential for economic viability in 2021.  Presently, the Provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta have reopening plans that would accommodate CFL games; the bad news there is that only 3 of the CFL teams reside in those Provinces – – the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the Calgary Stampeders and the Edmonton team formerly known as the Eskimos.

The other major concern voiced by Ryan is the cloak of secrecy surrounding talks between the CFL and the XFL after the XFL was bought out by a consortium led by Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson.  Ryan’s concern is that talks of mergers and partnerships might result in making the CFL less of a Canadian league.  There are fundamental differences between Canadian football and American football making the strategies and the plays themselves different.  [Aside:  I make no judgement on “better” or “worse” here; the games are simply “different” and both versions of football are entertaining to watch.]

Ryan has been a fan and a participant in both American and Canadian football; his roots and his heart are in the Canadian game; his business sense tells him that the American game has more clout.  But is the economic power that the NFL can wield also in the hands of the XFL?  Here are a few of Ryan’s remarks on that:

“I think the XFL has the potential to be a great league but, right now, some of the CFL teams are 100-plus years old and they’re potentially partnering with a league that has played 1 1/2 seasons over the last 20 years. It’s kind of an infant in terms of professional sports.”

And …

“To turn it [the CFL game] into a four-down game, I think that would trickle down and could potentially kill amateur football in Canada, which would be incredibly disappointing.”

Like Jon Ryan, I would also like to see the CFL survive in something like its current form – – including the planned addition of a team in Nova Scotia to be called the Atlantic Schooners.  The COVID pandemic killed XFL 2.0 when Vince McMahon shut down league operations, declared bankruptcy and sold off whatever assets the league had left.  I am not in favor of surrendering another league to a mutant virus.

The economic future of the NFL is not seriously in doubt.  In fact, one club is in the process of a major upgrade in its playing facility and using that opportunity to “give back” to the local community.  The Carolina Panthers are digging out the playing surface at Bank of America Stadium and replacing the turf grass there with a synthetic surface.  To do that, 5,000 tons of soil must be removed from the premises.  Think about it for a moment; where do you park 5,000 tons of soil?  Oh, and in case you were wondering, this amount of soil is approximately 4000 cubic yards in volume; that is more than most local gardening societies would use conveniently.

The Panthers found a way to get rid of that soil – – without creating a small mountain somewhere – – and to create goodwill at the same time.  Charlotte, NC is in Mecklenburg County, NC; the county government runs and maintains public athletic facilities for recreational use by the citizenry.  Consider that the soil being removed is well-prepared and well-maintained turf soil; this is not a bunch of topsoil mixed in with 5 times the amount of clay and rocks.  According to Mecklenburg County officials, the donated soil will be used as a top dressing for soccer and softball fields and possibly as a way to create from scratch a new cricket pitch.  [Aside:  Who knew that Charlotte was a hotbed of cricket enthusiast?]

Moving on …  Jared Veldheer has been an offensive lineman in the NFL since 2010; he has played for 5 teams over the course of his career.  Veldheer was a free agent in this offseason and is the subject of two announcements proximal in time:

  1. The NFL suspended him for 6 games for testing positive for a banned substance.
  2. Veldheer announced that he will retire and that the cause of the positive test was that he had taken a prescription medicine to counteract low testosterone levels in his blood due to a pituitary deficiency that he ascribes to “taking repeated blows to the head”.

I do not know about the linkage between pituitary deficiency and repeated blows to the head; you can search the Journal of the American Medical Association for that sort of info.  I do think, however, that there should be a way for players and the league to make a distinction between a “positive test” and a “positive test caused by a prescription med that a physician provides along with evidence of the condition to be ameliorated”.  It sounds as if both sides here are “in the right”, but the result is the end of a career.

Finally, here is a Tweet from humorist and cultural critic, Brad Dickson:

“Cicadas emerge from the dirt every 17 years, mate, and then die a few days later. You think your life sucks.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………