Toronto Argonauts: 2020 CFL season is officially cancelled

A helmet of the Toronto Argonauts. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
A helmet of the Toronto Argonauts. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images) /

After the Federal Government denied a petition for a $30 million loan, the 2020 season was cancelled for the Toronto Argonauts and the rest of the CFL.

As recently as Friday, there was still optimism the Toronto Argonauts and the rest of the CFL would play games in 2020. In the end however, it was all about money.

To be exact, $30 million in federal aid that the CFL was hoping would save the 2020 season. It was one final Hail Mary pass, a desperate attempt to throw an NHL-style bubble together around Labour day, for a six-game regular season and playoffs.

Unfortunately for the CFL and their fans, the Federal Government denied the request on Monday and shortly after, TSN reported that the 2020 season had been officially cancelled. As such, you can now add this to the long list of world events cancelled or postponed because of COVID-19.

What the future of the CFL looks like is anyone’s guess (especially if professional sports in Canada are still fanless in 2021), but those are tomorrow’s problems. Today, the CFL can finally close the door on a 2020 campaign that seemed doomed the moment the NBA’s Rudy Gobert tested positive.

The cancellation will leave a bitter taste in the mouth of the organization and their fans.

New head coach Ryan Dinwiddie had exuded confidence since his hiring in December; a refreshing change from the beaten down, going-through-the-motions persona exhibited by Corey Chamblin. The Toronto Argonauts were going to play a new style of ball, one that Dinwiddie was sure would lead to success.

Dinwiddie got to work right away building his roster, and it was one that leaned heavily towards his offensive talents. They took Dejon Brissett, a former power five NCAA receiver in the first round, (a local boy too, hailing form Mississauga), and brought in Matt Nichols, who was on an MOP style pace last year with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, before injuries ended his season with the eventual champions.

Dinwiddie even brought back McLeod Bethel-Thompson, a man who, despite having most of last year’s losses thrown on his shoulders, was almost universally respected in the room as a leader from start to finish. There’s not a lot that goes right in a locker room of a team that is 4-14, but Bethel-Thompson was one of the few bright lights, even when a lot of others were starting to punt on the season.

Who knows how any of that will play out now. The CFL and its players union need to figure out an updated CBA (like the other professional sports leagues who collectively bargain), now that revenues will be in the toilet for the foreseeable future.

This hits the CFL harder than most because, unlike the other sports leagues, their TV contract alone is not enough to fund a league season. The CFL relies so heavily on ticket and merchandise sales at their home games, a season without fans could be almost as disastrous as not having one at all.

How the league and its union will look at 2020 is another problem. Do players earn a year of service, like they have in other leagues?

If so, that means the likes of Bethel-Thompson (and many others across the league) will be free-agents, having signed a one-year deal. How many players will just move back down south, and never come back?

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The CFL doesn’t exactly pay top dollar –it gets by because it is the most stable and legitimate alternative to the NFL if you want to continue playing professional football. With that stability gone, does the league become more Canadian?

All these questions are for the weeks and months ahead, when we get a clearer picture of what the 2021 season will look like. In the meantime, today is a sad day for the CFL.

However the Board of Governors choose to spin the announcement, the league is in a tough spot. According to some owners, this federal aid was so desperately needed, not receiving it could mean the end of the league.

Do I believe that the CFL is over, and the Grey Cup will become just a historical trinket? No. Canadian football has been around for over 100 years, and the Grey Cup was being awarded well before the CFL showed up.

However, be prepared for anything. If the league’s economic forecast for 2021 includes no fans, the teams that rely heavily on that income may be forced to sit out the year. And if health Canada or provincial governments don’t okay the inter-provincial travel, or a bubble site, the league may not return until 2022.

In short – the CFL isn’t dead. Far from it. But it may look a lot different when it returns.

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What is your take on the CFL’s decision to cancel the 2020 season? Are you concerned about the future for the Toronto Argonauts and the rest of the league, or optimistic it will all work out in the long-term? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.