An ALSternative look at the cancelled 2020 CFL season

Well, this sucks…

It’s been nearly a week since the Canadian Football League made the unfortunate decision to cancel the 2020 football season. Naturally, football fans nationwide have run the gamut of emotions that one is supposed to go through during a loss: Denial, Anger, Fear, Bargaining and Acceptance.

Acceptance is the most bitter pill to swallow as those who live and die by the CFL now have to face the grim reality of the situation at hand. This was a fractured league to start with and now we see just how badly broken it truly is.

While other major sports leagues have resumed play, the CFL squandered months of opportunity to right itself and decided that it was unable to have even a shortened season without the help of the Canadian government. Naturally, a lot of fans lay the blame of the CFL’s demise at the feet of this government but in reality, it’s a futile exercise.

The fact of the matter is that the Canadian Football League’s business model is not only broken, it’s potentially shattered and beyond repair. Doing things the way they have for all these years and being unable to evolve has been this league’s undoing for quite some time now. Simply put, this is NOT a major league sport. It’s a niche sport at best, like the failed spring football leagues before it. But it’s OUR niche sport and while the CFL has survived hardships before, the chickens are finally coming home to roost.

But what’s done is done. On the Alouettes Flightdeck podcast, I likened the cancellation of the 2020 season to when a star athlete suffers a season-ending injury. The injury has happened. Fine, it sucks. But now that the damage is done, the healing can begin. It’s now time for the league to begin its rehab in order to come back bigger, faster, stronger and better than before.

There is a LOT of work that has to be done before May 2021 and the hopeful return of the CFL. Hopefully this is a minor setback for a major comeback.

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The toughest part of this year’s cancellation as an Alouettes supporter is the stories that will now either never happen or will have to happen in 2021. Here’s a look at what should have been dominating the headlines this summer and beyond:

Danny Mac is back

This off-season saw the hiring of former Universite de Montreal head coach Danny Maciocia as the Alouettes’ new general manager. He’s made a lot of moves in free agency as well as in the CFL draft. In a perfect world, we’d be at the halfway point and wondering if the moves he made would have been a success or a failure.

We’d also be wondering if last year’s success from head coach Khari Jones was truly his players buying into his teachings or merely good fortune. There is a great nucleus here in Montreal and they also would have liked to establish themselves for the new ownership group that’s in place.

Stars on the rise

This would also be one of the big stories coming out in 2020; the evolution of the Montreal Alouettes as a football team. After years of mediocrity, this team had posted its first winning season since 2012 and despite a loss in their first playoff appearance in 5 years, the potential for greatness was on display.

Vernon Adams Jr. proved his worth as a CFL starting quarterback in 2019. He would have gone into this season as the unquestioned starter behind centre. He would also have an array of weapons at his disposal. How would “Big Play VA” thrived as the undisputed leader of this team had this season not been shuttered?

This Alouettes defense took everyone by surprise last season. But in 2020, what could we have expected from superstars like Henoc Muamba and Greg Reid? Would we have seen one more season from the great John Bowman or would he too have decided that his last game was played? And if the latter, then who would emerge as the leader of the Alouettes’ defensive line and be that threat to opposing quarterbacks?

Montreal’s special teams looked to have finally turned a corner towards the end of 2019 with the emergence of one Mario Alford, who turned returning kicks into an art form. Would he still bring that same magic to this Alouettes team in 2020? And with a new kicker at the helm, how would ST coach Mickey Donovan and his charges be able to contribute to this team’s success?

Simply put, there were a lot of potential superstars right on the cusp of becoming household names in 2020 for the Montreal Alouettes. Instead, we can only hope that their competitive fire will still burn one year from now.

Defending The Nest

Along with the Alouettes’ success on the field, we saw Percival Molson Stadium return to being THE place to watch exciting CFL football. Was that also the start of a major upswing in the 514 or just good timing?

In a recent media conference call, new Alouettes president Mario Cecchini stated that season ticket sales were UP this off-season. There’s no question that any fans who attended Alouettes games last season were treated to some very exciting football, win or lose. Could it be that the addition of this new ownership group and the security that it brings has given fans that sense of stability that it needed?

There are many who stated that the hire of the Quebec-born Maciocia in a crucial role was a major factor. Personally, I’m of the opinion that fans don’t buy seasons tickets for the general manager, but rather for exciting players like Vernon Adams (whose contract was extended!), Eugene Lewis, Jake Wieneke and so many more.

There’s a lot of factors in play and they all would arrive at the same conclusion: Football is relevant in the 514 yet again and surely would have seen tremendous growth had the 2020 season taken place.

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Do I think the CFL as a whole can get its act together? I sincerely hope so. This league, for all its trials and tribulations, has been a beacon of light for so many people. Those who hate it can hate it. Those who love it will always love it. I’ve never seen a sports league of any kind have such a polarizing effect on people.

I’m truly of the opinion that this league has to make wholesale changes in the way it operates. The lack of transparency from the league’s board of governors has really cast a pall over everyone who wants this league to succeed. Blame whoever you want for the pickle we find ourselves in, but enough is enough. The off-season is officially on, whether we like it or not.

It behooves EVERYONE who is associated with the CFL, be it owners, league officials, partners and so on, to really take a good long look in the mirror and decide how they can help fix this badly broken business model that we call the Canadian Football League.

For all the trumpeting about this sport being around for over 100 years and how it’s a part of this nation’s culture, the real question that needs to be answered is how will it remain a part of our culture for the NEXT 100 years? What will you do to ensure that all nine teams of this league (and maybe one day ten, if not more??) are just as successful as the next?

Because the game of football will go on with or without the CFL. If you’re one of those Canadians who bashes the NFL (or rather, are threatened by its existence), ask yourself why they are able to thrive the way they have? There was a time when the CFL paid better than the NFL, so don’t hand me this crap about how they’ve got more money.

The NFL has had to change and evolve (sometimes kicking and screaming in the process) in order for it to become the global leviathan that it is today. Ask yourself why it’s cool for young Canadian football fans to watch the NFL and not the CFL? What is the NFL doing that the CFL isn’t?

And now with the XFL looking to make a comeback and provide young football players with a place to hone their skills and making a living, how can the CFL remain the better option to advance one’s football career? Yes, the XFL folded twice. But eventually one of these fledgling leagues will find a way to become a sustainable option for a young football player. And when that happens, what will be left of the CFL in terms of being able to develop stars of their own?

Nobody wants to see the CFL be a success more than me. Writing this blog for nearly a decade and seeing the league the way I have in that time has been a blessing. I, like so many others, have benefited greatly from the CFL being a great sport to be a part of.

I don’t expect it to become the global powerhouse that CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie seems to have envisioned in his head. But I do expect it to be a great compliment to the game of football, starting at the university ranks and beyond. This is a league like no other and its survival is not a given.

It’s truly the little league that could, but the way things have been run has to stop. This league needs to act like a major league and not a league of have/have-nots.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Whatever the higher-ups have to do to make the Canadian Football League has to be done now. Like, yesterday even. There’s far too much for the sport of football to lose.

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So now, where does this leave The ALSternative? After all, it’s meant to be a positive voice for the Montreal Alouettes and its fanbase. And so far this year, there hasn’t been too much to be positive about.

I realize that my last post was written in May 2020 and there’s no excuse for that. The team itself hasn’t really generated a lot of news for me to expand upon because, well, they haven’t played any football and won’t be this year.

I’ll still try to pop in and offer up what will hopefully be some good thoughts on the rehab of this broken football league that we love. And I’ll still make my voice heard on the Alouettes Flightdeck podcast, along with Tim Capper. If you’re not already listening, check it out on great podcast mediums like Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher and Spotify.

And do follow me on Twitter for any and all updates throughout this extended CFL off-season.

Let me tell you, this is hardly the way I thought 2020 was going to go, both in football and in general. But tough times don’t last, tough people do. I remain confident that when all is said and done, we’ll come out of this ordeal better for the process. What choice do we have, really?

As always, thanks for reading.

GO ALS GO!!!