October 22nd, 2021

Inside the CFL: Focus should be on the field, instead it’s on COVID

By Graham Kelly on August 26, 2021.

Week 3 saw the CFL at its best as Montreal and Calgary staged a thriller under a full moon at McMahon Stadium. The huge underdog Toronto Argonuats upset the mighty Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Saskatchewan predictably crushed Ottawa and Edmonton went into the Lion’s den and “upset” B.C.

Bo backups stole the show, rookie Jake Maier leading the Stamps to their first victory of the season and Nick Arbuckle, No. 2 on Calgary’s 2019 depth chart beating the Bombers. Great action with more to come Sunday in Winnipeg when the kid Jake strives to prove his win was no fluke and the Bombers try to show their loss to the Argos was just that.

The focus should be on the field. Instead it’s COVID.

Twelve members of the Edmonton Elks have tested positive and Thursday’s game in Toronto has been cancelled. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for stupidity.

The league will try to reschedule. In a shortened season with the Grey Cup already slated for the middle of December, that could be difficult. CFL policy states that if a game cannot be rescheduled because of COVID-19 and one club is suffering from COVID issues, that club will forfeit the game and be assigned a loss with it’s opponent credited with a 1-0 win. If both clubs are at fault, both will be assigned a loss. That is not the case here because the Argos are clean.

If a team can prove that 85% of its players have been vaccinated, its players will receive their salary for the cancelled contest. (Players are paid by the game). If the team is below 85%, no one gets paid, vaccinated or not. The Elks have had the worst outbreak and are below the 85% threshold.

NFL policy is similar but tougher. If a game can’t be played due to COVID, nobody on either team gets paid even if one club is clean. They have made it clear that it is not likely a cancelled game will be made up, which could have huge playoff implications. Basically, the NFL is telling the players, if you want to play in our league, get vaccinated. Coaches down there are really trying to make it happen whereas in the CFL most coaches have their heads in the sand.

Each team is taking precautions. All Stampeder and McMahon Stadium staff wear masks. Social distancing is required in the press box, so other than team and league officials, there are only three of us print and radio types there. Use of the elevator is strictly limited. Fans used to come really early to get their tail-gating spot. Now there’s lots of room. I can’t do an in-person interview. Everything is virtual. In Calgary, fans are nervous, many are reluctant to go to the ballpark. They want protection from the great unvaccinated. So teams aren’t waiting for government to act. Calgary will require proof of vaccination to enter McMahon, as will the Flames and Hitmen for the Saddledome. The Oilers and Oil Kings will do the same in Edmonton, although a fan can show proof of a negative COVID test taken 48 hours before. Ironically, no proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test will be required at Commonwealth Stadium, home of the Elks, along with Saskatchewan the only team where anything goes. In addition to the CFL, all Canadian NHL teams are adapting similar protocols. In Calgary the policy comes into effect Sept. 15, after the Labour Day Classic with the Elks.

I am delighted football is back. I really enjoyed last Friday’s game when the rookie Jake Maier showed the team will likely be okay without Bo Levi Mitchell. I loved the atmosphere, reduced as it was. I especially enjoyed tail-gating with our son Rob and his family and friends, a tradition going back 30 years or more.

I cringe when I see the crowds at Mosaic Stadium. The Labour Day Sunday game against Winnipeg is a sellout. There is a lot of money involved here, money the community-owned Roughriders desperately need. A half-a-dozen players testing positive for COVID could prevent a Rider first-place finish and cripple the team financially. Some say this is a complex issue. I disagree.

Notwithstanding a pre-existing medical condition, if you want to play or work in the CFL, you must be vaccinated.

Graham Kelly has covered the CFL for the Medicine Hat News for 49 years. Feedback for this column can be emailed to sports@medicinehatnews.com

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