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Plenty of hubbub is being made over Edmonton becoming a hub city for the NHL’s return-to-play plans.
But how about making it a super-hub?
The Canadian Football League is currently viewing a couple of cities, one East Division and one West, to salvage whatever can be of a coronavirus-postponed 2020 season.
And the initial thought is to go the way of the banjo, with Winnipeg and Regina currently at the top of the list, according to Sportsnet’s Arash Madani, which would see the four West Division teams set up shop in Mosaic Stadium and the five members of the East descend upon IG Field. Teams would then bus back and forth, as necessary, while maintaining isolation within their own pods.
But perhaps it would be wise not to rule out Commonwealth Stadium just yet, in the city that seems to be drawing the eyes of the NHL already.
Regina certainly boasts the jewel of the league in a Mosaic Stadium that still has that new-car smell, which would have been the focal point of the CFL’s biggest annual spectacle when it was set to host the Grey Cup final and week-long festival leading up to it.
But it might be worth delving deeper than Saskatchewan’s shiny new surface to find what’s best for the West.
After all, a big reason for pushing to have some sort of season is to make money. Or, at least, to not lose as much.
And after recent proceedings, there is no doubt the league and many of its member teams have shown just what’s at stake here — to the tune of up to $150 million requested in federal funding, to be exact.
And for the three-down circuit, whose TV deal only covers each club’s salary cap, that can’t simply mean playing in empty stadiums, which is the way all the big leagues are leaning right now.
“We are investigating that as a possible scenario, the evaluation of that as an option (for the CFL) is underway,” league commissioner Randy Ambrosie said in a phone interview with Postmedia. “There are still way more questions than there are answers because it’s obviously well outside the scope of what we would normally do. And everybody, all the sports — hockey, basketball, baseball — everybody has been looking at this as a scenario.
“And I’m not sure anyone’s got it perfectly figured out yet, but it is something that our teams are interested in looking at.”
But unlike the NHL bid, which would see games at an otherwise-empty Rogers Place and the accompanying Downtown Community Arena, there is a distinct possibility a CFL hub site may very well include fans.
Some, at least.
“A really socially distant environment,” Ambrosie offered. “We’re looking at how you might use a stadium in a hub city, for example, and how many fans could you accommodate? And there’s lots of different calculations, and, of course, these are all things that have to be discussed and approved by healthcare officials.
“And going into the fall, we don’t know what restrictions the governments will impose on us.”
Whatever the case, you can’t talk social-distance measures in the CFL without bringing up Commonwealth Stadium. As the biggest barn in the league, the tried-and-true 42-year-old facility has room for 55,819, making it twice the size of some CFL stadiums.
And that’s a pretty appealing number for Ambrosie to put into his calculator, regardless of whether he’s looking at 50% or 25% capacity.
Another appealing number is the 55 active cases of COVID-19 in the Edmonton zone at the end of this past week, compared to 76 in the Regina area, according to the provincial governments websites.
“And I’m thankful, quite frankly, that Edmonton hasn’t been hit as hard by the COVID virus, and I hope it stays that way,” said Ambrosie, who isn’t ruling out the idea of it becoming a super-hub quite yet. “It could be.”
But even if Edmonton isn’t picked for that task, there is still a chance CFL football could be played in Commonwealth Stadium this year.
“Given the choice we’ve made, and this is the beauty of the win-and-host model, is that Edmonton is in the running to host the Grey Cup because all they have to do is have the best record and make it to the Grey Cup (final),” said Ambrosie, who won one of his own while playing on the Eskimos’ offensive line from 1989-93.
“We know that Edmonton is a remarkable sports city, and having just seen them host one of the greatest Grey Cups of all time two years ago, the idea of them hosting is awfully appealing because of their history.”
As for the present global pandemic, we’re doing pretty darn good handling that, too.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020