TORONTO — Retired longtime CFL receiver Mike Morreale hopes he can parlay his football background into a successful league for Canadian basketball players and fans.
Morreale is the CEO of the new Canadian Elite Basketball League that will tip off in May of 2019.
"The opportunity to get back into sport was huge, and very important, it’s something I’m passionate about," Morreale said. "It’s great to get back into it and get your hands dirty and hopefully create some positive change."
The inaugural campaign will see a 20-game regular-season schedule and single-elimination playoffs, with teams in Edmonton, Saskatoon, Hamilton, the Niagara region, Guelph, Ont., and B.C.’s Fraser Valley, B.C.
Each team will have a 12-player roster, with a Canadian-player quota similar to the CFL.
Morreale was the president of the CFL Players’ Association until 2014, and was working with a Calgary-based private jet company when he crossed paths with Richard Petko, the owner of the Niagara River Lions which currently play in the 10-team National Basketball League of Canada.
"Along the way we got talking about creating something really special, creating a legacy for basketball, filling the void that kind of exists in Canada for professional basketball," Morreale said.
The 46-year-old Morreale played 12 seasons in the CFL, splitting time with Toronto and Hamilton, winning a Grey Cup with the Argonauts in 1996 and with the Tiger-Cats in ’99. Morreale was named the most outstanding Canadian in 1998.
Several basketball leagues have tried and failed in Canada.
"We certainly looked at the leagues that had come before, we looked at where they did well, and where the pitfalls were," Morreale said. "And we structured our organization in a way that looked at the best practices of not just basketball leagues out there but other professional leagues, across this country and internationally."
Morreale said the CEBL will borrow from both the CFL and Major League Soccer.
"We settled on a structure that we believe can be strong in the short-term and the long-term, with a corporate model similar to the MLS when they started where the league will operate the six territories and really be completely funded," he said.
Under a corporate structure, Canadian Basketball Ventures, the league will foot the bill for everything from ticketing platforms, to national sponsorships, to marketing.
"It’s a multimillion dollar investment, because that allows you to do this properly," Morreale said. "If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right … and really create a playbook for our local territories to thrive and be successful with the support from head office at every turn."
While the NBL is about to wrap up its season, the CEBL will operate May through August, and will play under FIBA rules, which include 10-minute quarters.
Among other personnel announcements Wednesday, Greg Francis will be the league’s head of basketball, in charge of coach and player recruitment. Francis is Canada Basketball’s manager of men’s high performance.
John Lashway was named president of the Hamilton team and the league’s executive vice-president of strategy and communications. Lashway previously worked in communications and community development for the Toronto Raptors and Portland Trail Blazers.