Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie will appear via videoconference during a panel on arts, culture, sports and charitable organizations, in a May 7, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie will appear via videoconference during a panel on arts, culture, sports and charitable organizations, in a May 7, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The Spring League in U.S. interested in forming partnership with CFL

A best-case scenario for the CFL is opening an abbreviated season in September

An American developmental football league wants to help CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie out.

Brian Woods, the CEO of The Spring League, has approached Ambrosie about a partnership. Woods is offering an opportunity for some CFL teams to practise with and play against Spring League squads in September in a condensed format he says has proven beneficial to his operation.

“I think there could be an interesting opportunity here because it’s not sounding good for the summer or fall season up there,” Woods said. “The Spring League has been here since 2017 and many of our players have made it on to CFL teams and in some instances been very productive.

“It’s absolutely of great importance to us that the CFL stays in operation.”

These are troubled times for the CFL. Ambrosie said Wednesday a best-case scenario for the league is opening an abbreviated season in September due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But a cancelled 2020 campaign also remains a definite possibility.

Ambrosie has approached the Canadian government for assistance. The league’s three-part proposal includes $30 million immediately, more monies for an abbreviated season and up to an additional $120 million in the event of a cancelled campaign.

The Spring League is a developmental football operation. It consists of four teams — with 38 players on each roster — that practise jointly and play games at one facility.

Its season usually begins in March and generally lasts three weeks. Teams play two games apiece and during the off-season the league conducts tryout camps.

“It’s not many games but it’s enough for players to get current film,” Woods said. ”Most NFL teams, even CFL teams, that’s all they’re looking for, they want to see players in two games to kind of really evaluate them and get a good feel for it.

“We’ve had to find a model that would work financially so we could sustain ourselves. We reached profitability last year and expect to have another profitable year (in 2020).”

Players aren’t paid but are housed in hotels and fed during the season.

“Ultimately they receive an opportunity,” Woods said. “We’ve taken guys who’ve been on NFL practice squads the year before and are coming off injury.

“Getting into The Spring League was important for them to show, ‘Hey I’ve rehabilitated, I’m healthy, I can play and I’m full go.’ It’s been quite valuable to NFL teams, and even CFL teams for that matter.”

Woods said The Spring League has sent over 60 players to the CFL. That includes Toronto Argonauts quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Ottawa Redblacks receiver Jalen Saunders and former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.

The Spring League held an abbreviated ‘20 season that began with one of its teams playing an exhibition game in Dallas against a Japanese squad. Then all four clubs convened for three weeks in Las Vegas.

Woods’ proposal calls for between two and four CFL teams combining with Spring League squads at an unspecified U.S. location for three-to-four weeks. Woods is amenable to adopting Canadian rules and playing on longer, wider fields like squads in Canada do.

“In 2019, the XFL asked us to test out some rules they were looking at for their 2020 launch,” Woods said. “They paid us a low six-figure deal to work with them but we were willing to test out some rules because we’re a true developmental league.

“We’d be completely amenable to utilize most, if not all, CFL rules and we could absolutely incorporate the CFL guidelines as it relates to the field specifications.”

Ambrosie hasn’t formally spoken to Woods but said they’ve exchanged emails. While the CFL hasn’t closed the door on a 2020 season, Ambrosie is keeping all of his options open.

“I’m trying to keep an open mind to everything,” he said. “The one quality of this job is try to make friends, build relationships and explore all options.

“I think what our governors want me to do is find a bigger, brighter future for this league. That means you’ve got to be open to new thoughts.”

Woods hopes to speak with Ambrosie, “sooner than later.”

“I think this is something that requires some planning even though we’ve got our infrastructure in place,” Woods said. “We’re better equipped to deal with the current health crisis probably more so than the traditional, bigger sports entities in the U.S. because we operate out of one location.

“We’re not in multiple cities, we’re not going to need to bus into different markets, we don’t need air travel. We wouldn’t need much time to get this up and running but certainly for planning purposes and finding an agreeable structure, I think it would be prudent to have conversations as soon as possible.”

Woods said playing games with no fans wouldn’t be an issue, as The Spring League did so in Las Vegas.

Woods said the two entities would operate independently. CFL teams would abide by the league’s CBA, meaning this idea would also require acceptance by the CFL Players’ Association.

“Any sort of operation … would need to take into consideration the current collective bargaining agreement in Canada,” Woods said. “We’d continue to exist as one entity with our teams and they’d continue to exist as another entity but that wouldn’t prevent us from playing one another and having games.”

A source told The Canadian Press a CFL/The Spring League partnership hasn’t been discussed by the league and CFLPA. The source was granted anonymity because the CFL hasn’t commented publicly about the issue.

Like the CFL, The Spring League is looking at international expansion as early as next year.

“We’re hoping to have a team from Japan and maybe a team from either Mexico or Germany take part next year,” Woods said.

Woods believes TSN — the CFL’s broadcast partner — could be part of the project.

“I believe it’s doable and I think there could be a monetary play here with TSN potentially even if it’s a limited number of games,” he said. “And this isn’t foreign because there was a time when CFL teams operated in the U.S.

“I think Canada needs football … I think it’s important the CFL does something this year and is visible to some extent. Otherwise I fear for what could be ahead or what might not be ahead.”

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CFLNFL

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

Black Crow Cannabis is just one of Vernon's many pot shops now open in town. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Kelowna has highest cannabis fees in Okanagan

Vernon’s 14 stores pay second highest business licence fees

(Photo: pixabay.com)
Morning Start: More human twins are being born now than ever before

Your morning start for Friday, April 16, 2021

Twin sisters Kyla, left, and Jordyn Bear have accepted scholarships to play at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York for this upcoming fall. The 17-year-olds dream of playing together for Canada in the Olympics one day. (Jesse Johnston/CP photo)
Lake Country twins inspire Indigenous hockey players

Grade 12 George Elliot Secondary students Kyla and Jordyn Bear earn hockey scholarships at NCAA Division 1 school

Interior Health nurses administer Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
69 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

The total number of cases in the region is now at 9,840 since the pandemic began

Flow Academy is located at 1511 Sutherland Avenue in Kelowna. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Black Press Media Weekly Roundup: Top headlines this week

Here’s a quick roundup of the stories that made headlines across the Okanagan, from April 11 to 16

Penticton bylaw officers tore down a “pretty significantly sized” homeless camp underneath the bridge near Riverside Drive Friday, April 16 morning. (Brennan Phillips - Western News)
Penticton bylaw tears down ‘significantly sized’ homeless camp under bridge

Many residents had made complaints about the camp before it was torn down

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Vancouver Police Const. Deepak Sood is under review by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. after making comments to a harm reduction advocate Sunday, April 11. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to a harm reduction advocate

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

Premier John Horgan receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the pharmacy in James Bay Thrifty’s Foods in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. Premier John Horgan gets AstraZeneca shot, encourages others

27% of residents in B.C. have now been vaccinated against COVID-19

Ford F-350s have been targeted in the North Okanagan by auto thieves since February 2021, Vernon North Okanagan RCMP data shows. (Gene J. Puskar - The Canadian Press/AP file)
Auto thieves target older Ford F-350s in Vernon: RCMP

Vernon Mounties remind all motorists no vehicle is immune to auto crime

The Nautical Dog Cafe at Skaha marina is getting its patio ready in hopes Mother Nature will provide where provincial restrictions have taken away indoor dining. (Facebook)
‘A lot of instability’: B.C. restaurants in layoff limbo

As COVID-19 cases stay high, restaurants in British Columbia are closed to indoor dining

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Most Read