CEBL eyes hub city-style tournament starting in July

The Canadian Elite Basketball League has presented a plan to the Ontario provincial government to play a month-long tournament to crown a champion in July, CBC Sports has learned.

CEBL commissioner Mike Morreale told CBC Sports the league has been contemplating a return for weeks and has pitched a month-long event that would be hosted in one location somewhere in Ontario.

«We have presented a return-to-play document to the province and the sport minister [Lisa MacLeod],» Morreale said. «We are hopeful to have more detailed discussions in the near future.»

Morreale wouldn’t provide specifics on the location but did say the league has one in mind, and acknowledged the Ontario provincial government must give the league the green light.

The league, which began play last year, includes Hamilton, Edmonton, Saskatchewan, Guelph, Ont., Fraser Valley (Abbotsford, B.C.) and St. Catharines, Ont. (Niagara River Lions), as well as the newly added Ottawa Blackjacks. Seven of the 10 players on each roster must be Canadian.

WATCH | CEBL commissioner examining return-to-play scenarios:

Canadian Elite Basketball League CEO and commissioner Mike Morreale is looking into different scenarios to ensure the season isn’t cancelled.1:31

The plan is to have all seven teams report to a single location on July 1, with training camp taking place over the following nine days. The teams would play a round-robin tournament beginning July 11, with two games a day, one in the afternoon and one at night.

«Teams won’t play more than two days in a row,» Morreale said. «We’d have two games a day and alternate back and forth. There would be some off days in between round-robin games and the playoffs.»

Morreale said the smaller league and mostly-Canadian rosters makes it easier to plan an event with so many unknowns.

Six of the seven teams would qualify for a playoff, with the championship game proposed for Sunday, July 26.

While there are no official plans just yet to broadcast the games should they happen, the CEBL has a partnership with CBC Sports through 2022, making the public broadcaster the premier media partner of Canada’s only First Division professional basketball league.

Strong interest from players

One week ago, the CEBL sent out a survey to all players across the league to gauge their interest in playing sometime this summer.

Morreale was overwhelmed by the response.

«Over 95 per cent of the players responded they would be interested in playing in a hub city,» Morreale said. «That was very encouraging. We can’t do anything without our players.»

Morreale said many of the players also play on teams in Europe, where leagues have also been shut down because of the global pandemic, and is sympathetic to the financial crunch many of them face.

«They’ve already lost half a season. I’d hate for them to miss an entire season,» he said. «I’m trying to get the players paid. I’m trying to get the players on the court and playing, get some film and get some training.»

Morreale acknowledged there are still a lot of details to work out, including testing, travel and where all the players would stay. The U.S. and Canada recently extended their border restrictions until June 21.

But there is a glimmer of hope that this fledgling Canadian league hoping to build on last year’s inaugural season might just play basketball this summer after all.

«It’s important to play to stay relevant. If we have an opportunity, let’s at least investigate it,» Morreale said.