Its been a good news/bad news kinda week for Rider fans. The good news is that player have started reporting to Regina to being their quarantine and training camp will soon be starting. The bad is the growing list of people who will not being among those reporting.
The sheer number of retirements across the league should not come as a surprise. There has been no CFL football in a year and a half. Players had to get other jobs to survive. So now they are being faced with the decision of whether to quit those jobs to go sit in quarantine for a chance to make a CFL team and likely earn very little money. In a full season most players don’t exactly get rich playing in the CFL. In a 14 game season they will make even less than normal. As we are finding out, for many of the players that math just doesn’t work out. They love to play but probably love being able to afford to feed their families more.
For the Riders, the O-line has been the hardest hit. This offseason has been a pretty wild rollercoaster ride for that position. Coming into the year I thought we were in decent (not great) shape with the loss of Shepley. The we added Boyko and the white Johnson and suddenly we were very deep. Then we lost Schram, Cofield and LaBatte and are suddenly back to decent (not great). For me, the biggest loss is Cofield. In LaBatte we certainly lose a savvy veteran and the versatility to fill in multiple spots in a pinch. But we have other Canadian guards. In Cofield we lose a young, talented starting tackle. We don’t have anyone else with CFL game experience to step in there. Suddenly we are in a spot where Dan Clark and Terran Vaughn are the only remaining Riders along the line from 2019. Will certainly be a spot to watch come training camp.
The other big loss for me is Chad Geter. I have spoke openly about how highly I think of Geter. Dude is rock solid on special teams (a talent that does not get the recognition is deserves) and I really think he was poised to play a large role in the rotation at D-end. Also, a bit curious on McCray being added to the suspended list. Hopefully its a matter of him being delayed as opposed to not coming at all.
The silver lining is that all teams are dealing with a bunch of retirements. What I will be watching is how many of these retirements get coaxed out of retirement to play a couple games in November for a playoff run. A guy like LaBatte strikes me as someone who could be convinced of that.
The last thing I want to touch on this week is the player restrictions. Basically they are a couple steps above prison. Now I get the need for caution when importing hundreds of player from other countries during a pandemic. I also get that the restrictions in place were probably the only thing that health officials would agree to. The CFL may not be the model for great business decisions but if they could have negotiated lighter restrictions and got approval to play they would have. But I do agree with many of the vaccinated players who are complaining that they have the same rules as unvaccinated ones. I hope this is something that CFL and health officials can work on to amend going forward. In every other part of North America, the restrictions are easing… particularly for vaccinated people. But in the CFL vaccinated players are subject to crazy restrictions. I don’t think giving them free reign to do anything is advisable but some freedoms for vaccinated players would help keep them happy and maybe convince other to get vaccinated.
I know we can’t mandate vaccines (well you kinda can, but I don’t want to bore you with the legal nuances) but from a purely competitive advantage perspective, the teams with the highest vaccination rates will have a leg up on the rest. You have to look no further than the Raptors or the Canucks or the Titans to see the impacts of an outbreak in the locker room. More vaccinated players equals less chance of that and more chance of winning (unless you are Ottawa). So incentives (such as not being in total lockdown for months on end) would seem to be a good way to encourage vaccination without mandating it. I know we in Saskatchewan have completely dismissed the potential of vaccination related incentives in favour of a “come on, please do the right thing. I’ll be your friend” approach but I still think it makes sense. We could honestly solve Saskatchewan’s vaccine hesitancy problem with an offer that if you get fully vaccination you get your choice of: a pilsner, a free t-shirt shot at you from the t-shirt cannon, or all you eat perogies. That idea has so much potential I won't even put a patent pending on it. It's a freebie.