Island football teams given start date

Fall and football are synonymous. At least they were before the coronavirus pandemic.

The B.C. Football Conference hopes to keep it so and has planned for a tentative Sept. 19 start date for the delayed 2020 season.

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The BCFC, which includes the Westshore Rebels and Nanaimo-based VI Raiders, becomes the second league with Island teams to set a start date amid the pandemic. The Western Hockey League, which includes the Victoria Royals, has announced an opening on Oct. 2.

The pro soccer Canadian Premier League, which includes Island-based Pacific FC, is considering a tournament in a bubble at either Westhills Stadium in Langford or in Charlottetown, P.E.I., but no dates have been announced.

The Western Lacrosse Association, which includes the Victoria Shamrocks and Nanaimo Timbermen, and West Coast League of baseball, which includes the Victoria HarbourCats, have cancelled their 2020 seasons due to the pandemic.

The BCFC realizes tentative means just that.

“It hinges on a lot of things going right for us,” said Westshore Rebels president Rob Lervold.

“We can’t even put two teams on the field right now in terms of gathering numbers [currently limited to fewer than 50 people in B.C.]. Players, coaches, trainers, referees, ball boys, chain crew and so on amount to about 150 people on the field for a game.”

That doesn’t include fans. The WHL has said a season is not financially viable for it unless it can socially distance up to 50 per cent of arena capacity.

The BCFC is up against the same issue, even if its attendance percentage ratio may vary from that of the WHL.

“Our finances hinge on gate receipts and sponsorships,” said Lervold.

“Ticket sales amount to a large portion of our revenues. Without that, it will be very difficult [to mount a season].”

Canadian junior football has been a source of pro talent for the Canadian Football League. BCFC alumni include the likes of CFL running great Andrew Harris out of the Vancouver Island Raiders and reigning league MVP Andrew Pocrnic out of the Langley Rams, who has signed with the B.C. Lions.

“Junior football is a great product and we still hope to hold the Western Canadian championship and Canadian Bowl national championship,” said Lervold.

“Our league has an advantage in that all our teams are in B.C. But the Prairie Conference is spread over three provinces, which complicates matters [because three provincial health authorities are involved instead of just one].”

The tentative 2020 BCFC schedule would include two games against a regional rival and one game against each of the other teams for a six-game regular season, down from the normal 10.

The Rebels and Raiders would play each other twice in Island derbies. Langley and the Valley Huskers of Chilliwack would also meet twice in Fraser Valley derbies as would the Okanagan Sun and Kamloops Broncos in Interior sets

“That is to save travel costs,” said Lervold.

He added the weather in B.C. is generally good through fall and winter and that the tentative start date of Sept. 19 could be changed.

“What if we started instead in October, depending on the situation?” said Lervold.

“It’s all on the table. We just thought it was important to have a schedule in place, so we are ready, whenever we start.”

The Rebels players have been running informally in small groups, adhering to the regulations in B.C.’s return-to-play guidelines.

“We’re in a holding pattern and it’s a hodge podge of everything at the moment,” said Lervold.

“Guys are also working out by themselves as much as allowed in gyms and the like.”

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