April 7, 2020

“This is bigger than sports and entertainment” | CFL postpones start of season

before the CFL game between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB on Friday Sept. 27, 2019. (Photo: Johany Jutras / CFL)

Pat Neufeld wants to play ball this year, just like the rest of his Winnipeg Blue Bombers teammates.

And so when the Canadian Football League released a statement Tuesday morning indicating that due to the Coronavirus, the 2020 season will not start on time – the league opener was slated for June 11th – the veteran offensive lineman was crestfallen.

“It’s tough. I’m still hopeful, but nobody knows how any of this is going to play out,” said Neufeld Tuesday in a phone interview from his offseason home in Saskatoon. “It’s going to evolve over time, but now it’s a matter of keeping people safe.

“This is bigger than sports and entertainment right now. People have to stay patient and stay hopeful and understand this. We’ll get through this and eventually we’ll have football.”

The CFL’s announcement Tuesday was hardly unexpected given the global pandemic. Still, included in the disappointment of the news was the notion the 2020 season might still somehow be salvaged.

While it is now clear that the 2020 CFL season won’t start before the beginning of July, we are committed to working with our teams, the Players’ Association, TSN and RDS to play a full season or as close as we can come to one. We recognize this may require some creativity and we are preparing for multiple scenarios.”

That ‘creativity/preparing for multiple scenarios’ component came in the wake of reports in the U.S. that Major League Baseball was considering beginning its season in May – without fans – while teams would remain in isolation and travel only to and from the stadiums.

“It’s hard for me to think about any of that,” Neufeld conceded. “I know how important the fans are to the CFL. Deep down I just don’t want to do a disservice to our fans and the community of the CFL because having fans there is such a crucial aspect of our league and our game.”

“I’ll leave that ‘creativity’ part to the higher-ups in the league. That’s up to the people who are more aware of the situations and the timelines than I am. I trust those people, who are probably working harder than they ever have in their various capacities, to get a problem like this resolved.

“Commissioner Ambrosie said it best – the CFL is important and has a piece of our cultural fabric, but it’s also important that we do our job, stay at home and let this thing play out.

“We’re all keeping faith in the federal and provincial governments to do what’s right to try and settle this thing down.”

Keeping the faith right now can be difficult, but it’s what Neufeld and so many other players and coaches across the CFL are trying to do while they wait. Still, that’s easier said than done when playing careers are short and often defined by games played, not seasons played.

“People have been bombarded by the negativity of all this,” said Neufeld. “All you hear about are the overloaded healthcare systems and thousands passing away. With the 24-7 news cycles and social media keeping people abreast of everything, I really think you do need to find some sort of light in this situation.

“I realize that’s getting harder and harder to do, but I hope people can spread some form of positivity here. Having a hopeful date set by the league that gives some sort of that positivity is important.

“A lost season? It does creep into the back of your head right now. It’s hard to think about. It’s hard to think about the ramifications if a season isn’t played. I haven’t got to that point yet, but it’s there in the back of my mind. Hopefully not. Absolutely  hopefully not. You’ve got to hope for the best and plan for the worst.

“Ultimately, this is the right thing to do.”