When Randy Ambrosie said on Wednesday to a city hall of season ticket holders across the country that there might be an appearance of a 2020 season starting in September, he did so with the assurance of his trusted medical experts that there was a scenario in which football existed could be played because of the development of health protocols tailored to the CFL.
Is it economically and logistically feasible? These are completely different topics.
Ambrosie went public this week with the news that the Gray Cup 2020 is in Regina Toast and that at best half a season could be saved. But it didn't reveal the multi-dimensional plan that was being worked out with the hope of protecting players and staff in the event that teams gathered this summer for training camp and a possible start to the game on Labor Day.
The Commissioner has been saying for weeks that he is not giving up on this year's CFL game. He was approaching the ownership of the Ottawa RedBlacks and their medical director Dr. Glenn Copeland. The mission was clear: let's make a suggestion to return to the field and start a new process for starting games.
This model would be based on the fact that in week 1 of a modified schedule there are no fans in the stadium.
A committee was beaten. Members included Ambrosie, Dr. Copeland, a team of team and infectious disease doctors, immunologists, some league governors and general managers, and past and present CFL coaches. Perhaps the most impressive and successful member of the group is Dr. Lawrence Steinman, professor at Stanford University and former chair of immunology, who like Dr. Anthony Fauci is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine.
The Commissioner repeated the same message over and over again: safety, especially for players and employees. If we can get there, Ambrosie thought, we'll see if there's a business case that makes gaming possible.
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The committee's schedule consisted of first examining a minimum number of venues for the practice of exercises and games. The decision was made to go to the country with the fewest reported cases of COVID-19. That brought them to the prairie. The curve almost flattened in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The number of people with the virus there is tiny compared to Ontario and Quebec.
"We said," Let's find one or two venues, keep them all there and keep the venues close enough and play back and forth, "said Dr. Copeland, who also works with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Regina and Winnipeg were identified as the two cities as hubs. Five teams would gather in one market, four in the other.
These two cities made the most sense for the committee. In fewer cases, they are as safe as anywhere else in Canada where professional football is found. There are a number of practice fields in each city, and new stadiums are preparing them for television. Each trip would be made by bus, a six-hour trip each way, to minimize the risk of infection and reduce costs.
Against this background of the committee came the most important factor on the medical side of the whole plan: testing.
Since the March pandemic, testing has been perhaps the most polarizing issue in the whole crisis. From the number of tests that would be available to the public, to the accuracy of what they revealed. Significant progress has been made across North America in the past 10 weeks. There is not only the conventional nasal swab, but now there is also a blood test and a process that can detect saliva. What sparked the CFL Committee's interest was Dr. Steinman's proposal for a specific antibody test that is FDA registered and only takes 15 minutes to produce a result.
Some of the physicians at the (virtual) table believe that most of the discussions with this group were zoom calls, that the antibody method could be the league's best choice, although no decision would be made. Regardless of the method or methods chosen, the committee felt comfortable that in this phase of the crisis, enough tests are now available to check players and staff on a daily basis.
How about the procedure and protocol for it?
The premise is not complex, but it is thorough. Consider the whole situation in three zones. The outside zone is regularly in the public domain and the middle zone is a cordoned off area on the stadium grounds where tests are carried out. Then the inner zone: where there would be changing rooms, meeting rooms, training facilities, the field, showers and treatment tables.
In fact, any player or employee who would arrive to work in Regina or Winnipeg would be stopped in the middle zone. The agreed tests would take place there and the result would be provided while you wait – whether you try or not. "Go" means that the player has tested COVID-19 free and is going into the inner zone. If a player or employee is a "no go", it means a positive test. They would be immediately banished from the building and put in quarantine for 14 days – no different from how the Bundesliga treated their positive cases in Germany prior to their return to the game last weekend.
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The CFL committee made it clear that nobody could get into the inner zone until they had gone through the test procedure and protocols.
How different would it be in the inner zone? The committee recommended that the normally crowded gym be limited to 2-3 players at a time, accompanied by an employee wearing a mask and wiping the machines when a player is done with it. Cleaning would be very important in the entire inner zone and the areas would be renovated. Another issue.
"As soon as you are in the inner zone, it is assumed that the player is COVID-free until he goes outside," said Dr. Copeland.
All team members are reminded and encouraged to continue to distance themselves socially, wash hands, and eat in certain areas when in the outer zone.
"Nothing is official because nobody has done anything officially yet," said Dr. Copeland.
There are probably three main reasons why this didn't happen: finance, logistics and an agreement with the players.
Getting the two-hub format up and running has so many hurdles to overcome, and money is the focus. Several league sources have announced to Sportsnet that they have been told that it is not economically viable to achieve this. Housing, feeding and relocating four organizations to one city and three to another city has enormous costs that no team has budgeted – let alone that every organization in the league has had little or no income since the end of November.
Another fold is the question of what happens when personnel enter Canada.
Since at least half of the team line-up consists of Americans and the mandatory places for "global" players, each of these athletes who come into the country would have to be in quarantine for 14 days. Trainer and assistant coach too. For example, Edmonton's head coach Scott Milanovich is still in Florida with his family, and at least one other team has all but two coaches still in the United States
After crossing the border, each of them would need their own room and food for the two weeks. Public health officials contacted by Sportsnet predicted that federal quarantine policies will not change by summer, but as the pace changes, there is no way to know for sure.
If the CFL hopes to start with a shortened 2020 season in early September, it would mean a shortened training camp – with the likelihood of a pre-season game, not two – that starts around August 10th. This would require incoming flights to Canada by the end of July.
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Concern from team sources concerned the health of the quarantined players, which has nothing to do with COVID-19.
“After a man has been lying around in a hotel room for two weeks, do we ask him to go straight to the field to practice after a few days? They are not car engines, ”said a source. "You can't just put them in the garage and then tell them to light them."
Training staff are concerned that groin and thigh problems will be common among athletes. The early loss of qualified players due to these injuries is increased if the season only includes eight or nine games.
The desire to get games in financial centers. Wade Miller, CEO of Blue Bombers, has reported in the Winnipeg media that the team in 2020 would likely have a $ 10 million deficit if it didn't play, a year after the club's season the Gray Cup won, an announced profit of $ 3.5 million.
The idea is that the CFL television contract can generate some money, with the hope that by late autumn, crowds of up to 5,000 might come to the stadiums in a socially distant manner – with fans wearing masks and sitting three seats apart could add revenue.
"How much can we not lose? This is the mode we are in, ”said a source with a team in the league's West Division.
If the CFL tries to get this going, the training camp roster is likely to be cut by the 85 players (plus draft picks and globals) who regularly compete for jobs. And time is of the essence. In an interview on Thursday morning on Sportsnet 590 The Fan, Ambrosie would not specify a deadline for the league to decide whether to play this fall or not.
Many who work for teams across the country believe that there must be momentum by mid-June and a decision by early July.
"The whole conversation changes on July 1st if we can't move forward," said a league source. "Then we're in trouble."
Flights, hotels, meals, work permits – and if the two-hub format is actually in play, permits from every city are required. This also applies to approval from the CFL Players Association, which has been in contact with both the federal government and the league office in the past two weeks.
As for the medical committee, which believes that a return to relatively safe gaming is perfectly possible, if its recommendations and protocols are followed in the midst of the virus, see what happens with the restart of football in Europe and baseball games happening in South Korea as a sign this Canadian soccer may be the next.
"From a medical point of view, I am very cautiously optimistic that the CFL can do this," said Dr. Copeland.
Can the league say this economically and roll it out logistically? These answers are critical to the CFL's fate of playing a shortened 2020 season.
A league source said: "Each answer has 10 questions. I'm not negative, it's just reality. "