With COVID-19 having a major effect on the hockey world, football is also taking a hit so to speak.
For the Sault Steelers and the Northern Football Conference, the pandemic forced the league to take a step back to evaluate where things are going heading into the summer and the 2020 season.
“Everything is pretty much on hold,” said Steelers general manager and vice-president Jonathon Bujold. “The league mandated that we put off any football activities until April 15, so even getting together to sign guys, have discussions about recruiting, that’s pretty much off the table right now. We’re not supposed to be meeting face-to-face with anybody.”
It's had a major effect on teams getting ready for the new season.
“Everything is up in the air right now,” Bujold said. “The season is in question, no doubt.”
“I don’t know how you move forward as a league if there are parts of your league that aren’t even allowed to get together until mid- to late-summer,” Bujold added.
The city of Toronto has placed a ban on events and event permits at civic centres, parks and public spaces until the end of June, which would make it difficult for the Toronto-based teams in the NFC to get fields booked before Canada Day.
Bujold said the league has a conference call planned for April 15 that will involve all of the team reps and a discussion on how to proceed.
“Right now, the two possibilities are to defer the season into later into the summer or just call the season off for right now,” Bujold said.
At the time of the announcement, the league released a statement via Facebook that it was going to “suspend all football operations across the league temporarily.”
The decision, announced on March 19, included practices, team meetings, scrimmages and registration dates until April 15.
“At that time, we will meet again as an executive and re-evaluate the situation,” the statement says. “If the situation changes sooner, we will meet sooner.”
The effect COVID-19 has had on businesses will also hit the Steelers, who rely on those businesses for sponsorships.
How it will hit sponsorships as well as fan support and player turnout won’t be known until the pandemic is over.
“It’s a lot to go through right now and we’re only three weeks into this whole period,” Bujold said.
At the time the league announced the decision to halt football operations for the time being, the Steelers were well into the process of getting ready for the 2020 season.
“We started working out in January,” Bujold said. “We had all of our fields booked and refs and volunteers for the field. We had everything pretty much set up and ready to go. It was just a matter of getting the sponsorship cheques in and players signed. I was waiting for the registration forms from the league registrar the first week of March and that’s when all this went haywire. We were right at the point where we were going to start announcing signings.”
“We were really optimistic because our roster looked great this year,” Bujold also said. “We had a lot of guys that were people we had been chasing for years but they didn’t feel ready to join the Steelers but for whatever reason, these last couple of years, the perception of the team has changed and you had guys that wanted to come out and go with their buddies to play football.”