The last 365 days in Canadian football have been full of suspensions and labour negotiations off the field, and the ending of droughts on it.
Here are my bold predictions — based on educated guesses alone — of what will transpire in the world of Canadian football in 2020.
1. Canadian Football Championship Weekend returns
The CFL and U Sports are determined to work together in a mutually beneficial fashion to grow the Canadian game. And the most visibly public way that can and will occur is having the Vanier Cup rolled into Grey Cup week.
The Vanier Cup was last played in the Grey Cup host city two days before the CFL’s championship game in 2012 and 2007 in Toronto, and 2011 in Vancouver. The 2012 Vanier in the Rogers Centre set an attendance record of 37,000.
There are issues and hurdles to clear, of course. The 2020 Grey Cup is scheduled for Nov. 22 — a week earlier than the Vanier Cup. The host city Regina barely has enough hotels and infrastructure to host the Grey Cup and all its visiting media and fans, never mind an additional championship adding stress to their tourism infrastructure. And if the Vanier Cup is held in nearby Saskatoon, is that really the same thing as having it in the Grey Cup city? How many fans, media, etc. will travel to another city to consume or create content?
Finally, at times when the games were together, the CFL events throughout the week overshadowed the Vanier Cup events rather than shining a light on them.
These are all legitimate questions and concerns. But perfect is the enemy of the good. Quebec City’s Laval University has hosted the Vanier four times in the last seven years in its 12,000-seat stadium — mainly because most other universities are neither equipped nor willing to step up and host the big game.
Not only is it a competitive advantage for Laval to be the defacto host — it at some point will become a stale experience.
A national championship theoretically should travel across the nation and feel big. And there just aren’t realistic ways of doing that without partnering with the Grey Cup. For the CFL, the draw is to get in front of young football fans, the exact demographic they need to lure and grow as their current fanbase rapidly ages.
U Sports has yet to announce where the Vanier Cup will be next year. Why? Because they will and have to exhaust every opportunity to pair it with the Grey Cup. And when you have two willing and motivated parties, there is always a way it can and will get done. And no better place to relaunch the partnership than football-mad Saskatchewan.
2. The CFL becomes a coast-to-coast league
The 10th CFL team will be awarded to Halifax and the Maritime region. At long last, the Halifax regional council has approved $20 million for stadium funding. The proposal was almost killed in October, and a “no” vote would have essentially killed the dream of having a team in Halifax. But now the Schooner Sports and Entertainment ownership group can focus on finding a location that the regional council can agree to and continue talking funding with the Nova Scotia provincial government. There is too much momentum now for this not to get done.
The ownership group should have a completed deal in June, allowing construction to start this summer. The resulting stadium will house a team that will start playing in 2023.
3. Zach Collaros will wear double blue, again
Zach Collaros will be a Toronto Argonaut for the third time. It’s not often a QB leads a team to a Grey Cup and then leaves in free agency, but that will be the case for Collaros.
The Argos weren’t open to trading Collaros when Jim Popp was the GM. They made the move after Popp was relieved of his duties, but were open about being interested in having Collaros return in free agency. Since they haven’t closed that door, Collaros will walk through it as, first, the location in Toronto fits his family and, second, the team has a need at the position.
4. New Era ushers in a new era of uniforms
Last year, New Era took over for Adidas as the CFL’s official on-field equipment provider. It was the first time New Era, best known for being the leader in providing baseball caps, was making game apparel. Thus, the uniforms themselves didn’t change that much. Other than a uniform and logo rebranding by the Montreal Alouettes and some subtle changes to the look of the Toronto Argonauts, the uniforms across the league were pretty status quo.
Expect that to change. Now that New Era has a season under their built, expect the partnership to not only expand, but for new uniforms to be pretty bold and carry the CFL’s progressive mindset into the new decade by targeting a new generation of fans.