The Leos are mum on how they will be affected economically, or if they will be forced to layoff any staff, as the chances of play in 2020 dwindle each day.
Rick LeLacheur doesn’t have much to say these days.
Because, really, there’s not much he can say.
The B.C. Lions president is like the rest of the world, and its sports entertainment offshoots, as the battle to contain the pandemic COVID-19 virus continues to disrupt — and claim — lives around the globe.
The Vancouver-based team, and the CFL as a whole, is stuck in limbo, waiting to see how life unfolds in this new reality.
“Without a doubt,” LeLacheur said this is the hardest thing he’s faced as an executive. “I don’t think any of us have seen something like this before.”
The league has cancelled all its athlete combines and postponed its global draft until April 30. That will likely be conducted remotely, as will the main CFL draft slated for April 30. Rookie camps are on the horizon (May 13) with the main camps — the Lions are supposed to be in Kamloops — set for May 17, three weeks before the start of the regular season.
The Saskatchewan Roughriders are supposed to host the Nov. 22 Grey Cup at Mosaic Stadium, but Vancouver is being floated as a possible December alternative.
With the Lions, LeLacheur wasn’t able to speak to the contingency plans the team has, or any impact the team may suffer financially or staff-wise, deferring comment to the league office.
“It’s hard, it’s really hard to say anything of what we’re doing,” said LeLacheur, who says he has 62 non-playing employees.
“We’re all working from home, trying to look after the health of our employees and our players, first and foremost. To date, everybody’s been working at home and trying to do the best they can, like everybody else.
“We are no different than any other business in B.C. right now. We’re not a non-essential business as many businesses are, and no one is sure where this is going to take us. We’re just following what the government guidelines are, wherever we can, working from home, which means all of our people are working from home. And no one knows where this is going to go. At least, I sure don’t.”
So far only one CFL member — B.C. linebackers coach Travis Brown — has tested positive for COVID-19, and he was recovering at home at last report. Social distancing and isolation appear to have helped “flatten the curve” of cases in B.C., but the local outbreak isn’t the biggest challenge facing the CFL — it’s the U.S.
The border between Canada and the U.S. remains closed, and the Americans’ delayed response to the COVID-19 pandemic has the country on a trajectory far greater than any other. The U.S. has more than 100,000 cases — the most in the world — with the peak not expected for several weeks yet.
The CFL allows teams to have up to 20 Americans on its rosters, and the vast majority of them live in the States in the off-season. Lions quarterback Mike Reilly lives in Seattle; receiver Bryan Burnham is in Tulsa, Oklahoma; defensive back T.J. Lee lives in Blaine.
Since the pandemic has closed borders to non-essential traffic, there have been few signings among CFL teams. Only seven players have been added to rosters league-wide since March 18, two of them in B.C. — Lafayette College offensive lineman Jake Marotti and linebacker Quinlen Dean.
Marotti got spotted at the College Gridiron Small School Showcase in Fort Worth, Texas, in early January, and ironically it was the COVID-19 shutdown of NFL combines that played into the 6-foot-6, 295-pounder’s signing in B.C, but he remains at home in Ambridge, Pa., unable to join his new team.
Former Lion and new CFLPA president Solomon Elimimian has warned his members that they should prepare for the upcoming season as if it isn’t going to happen, in a ‘hope for the best, prepare for the worst,’ letter to players this week.
“As I sit here writing to you from Arizona, everything is being shut down — from schools to malls, to restaurants and gyms. We are in a different world to say the least. Like many of you, I’ve had to re-calibrate my plans, and it seems as if the only thing that is certain right now is uncertainty,” he wrote. “I want you to know that I have been in regular communication with the CFL to try and get answers to the questions we all have. … I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you all to prepare for the worst.”