BURNABY, B.C — The British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) Board of Governors on Friday unanimously approved a COVID-19 alternative plan for the 2020-21 season.
If Provincial Health Office (PHO) regulations do not permit fans in the stands — even at 25% capacity — by the Dec. 1 start date, the league will move forward with a model of reduced games (without fans) and rely on player fees, along with sponsors and government support, to fund the season.
“Our main objective remains to play a season, no matter what, but our original goal of starting in December with 25% capacity in our buildings is in jeopardy,” said Graham Fraser, chairman of the BCHL Board of Governors, in a press release. “This new scenario allows us to have a fall-back plan if that does not occur. Even if we end up going with the alternative, we may have the opportunity to introduce fans into the stands later in the season and into the playoffs, which would, in turn, reduce costs for the players and their families.”
Wenatchee Wild General Manager Bliss Littler said the league announcement is a step forward, but also just a Plan B. Everyone is hoping that fans will be allowed back (in some capacity) by the start of the season.
“There are some businesses that are doing extremely well right now, and a lot that are flat-out hurting, so each business we’ve had to look at to see what we could do (in terms of corporate sponsorship),” Littler said. “If we get to December and fans aren’t allowed, teams could charge players a fee, but it will be different for every team based on finances.”
Littler said he met with players and parents Monday to discuss the upcoming season and fees that could potentially be levied. Of course, Wenatchee has to clear the additional hurdle of being the only stateside team in the BCHL. They have to cross the border — which is still closed except for essential travel — for every road game.
“We’re hoping to get to the first of December, the border is open and we can have fans in the stands (because) if that’s the case, there won’t be any charge for players,” Littler said. “If not, this is the direction that we’ll go. The biggest thing for us though is the border opening because either we have to cross, or someone else does to play here.”
Washington is among the few states (California and Illinois are others) that have not opened hockey back up for youth play.
But in the updated guidelines for team sports that Gov. Jay Inslee put out in June, junior hockey teams will be allowed to resume practice once their respective county reaches Phase 2; games can resume in Phase 3.
“Our No. 1 goal over the past six months has been to get our players back on the ice,” BCHL Executive Director Steven Cocker said. “The board believes we presented a plan to safely have fans in the building and that remains our goal. In case the government does not allow for it, the league office and all 18 teams will work diligently to find ways to reduce player fees. At the end of the day, we want to do right by our players, teams, our league and our fans, and that means having a 2020-21 season.”
An official exhibition schedule will be released in the coming weeks.
The schedule will involve regional cohorts, with teams split into groups of four. Teams will be mandated to quarantine for 14 days before rotating to a new group.