REGINA — His thoughts on what he believes is an unfair CFL schedule simmering inside of him, Ottawa Redblacks defensive back Antoine Pruneau went right to the top to get an explanation.
With more than 50 of the CFL’s elite players, along with coaches and football operations personnel here for Mark’s CFL Week, Pruneau asked commissioner Jeffrey Orridge about the schedule on Tuesday night.
“When I saw the schedule, I was like, ‘We have to do something about this,’ ” Pruneau said at Wednesday’s media day session. “I called almost everybody on the team and asked, ‘What can we do to change this?’ I told the guys, ‘If I see the commissioner, I’m going to tell him.’
“We were at The Keg for dinner Tuesday, the commissioner was there. I’m not shy. I chugged a beer first. We went to the bathroom at the same time. I was washing my hands and I thought, ‘This is my chance.’
“I started real smooth: ‘How’s it going, did you have a nice vacation?’ He said, ‘It’s not stopping for me, I’m working a lot to make this league better.’
“On the way back to the table, I stopped and said, ‘I have to ask you: What happened with our schedule?’
“He told me they used the same system the NFL does. It works with stadium availability, the hours TSN can put it on TV. It was a good conversation, he’s a great guy. I’m not sure he convinced me with his arguments. At the same time, I have to realize what they have to go through to make the schedule. There’s always one team that’s going to get screwed with a nine-team league. But why us?”
The Redblacks are miffed, in particular, about a three-game stretch (July 14-24) in which the team plays three times in 11 days. Ottawa also doesn’t have a bye until the final three weeks of the season — with the Redblacks getting weeks 18 and 20 off.
Their regular season finishes on Oct. 27 at home against Hamilton, which could leave a significant gap between their final regular-season game and their first playoff game. The East semifinal is Nov. 12, with the first-place teams getting a bye to the Nov. 19 final. If the Redblacks win the East and advance to the division championship game, they will have played one game in 37 days.
“We have to manage either way,” said Pruneau. “This team is going to be great. We’re not going to make this into an excuse. It’s tough mentally. There’s always a way to manage your body, but if your mind is not in the right place and you don’t get a break, it’s tough.”
The Redblacks, in fact, objected to an early version of the schedule. The CFL made some adjustments, but after complaints from other teams, the league reverted to the original plan.
Said Pruneau: “Personally, I think it’s better if every team says, ‘Ah, we don’t like this one thing,’ rather than having one team look at it and say, ‘This makes no sense.’ ”
Pruneau signed a two-year extension in mid-December to remain with the Redblacks. Since then, several of the teammates he went to war with and won the 2016 Grey Cup are gone.
“Guys like Ernest (Jackson), Chris (Williams), Hank (Henry Burris), it’s tough to see them go,” said Pruneau. “But it’s a business. My trust is in (GM) Marcel (Desjardins) in that department. If you look at what he’s done for this organization in the past three years, you have to trust him. I think he did his best to bring as many players back as he could.”
Why did he sign early rather than try to cash in on free agency?
“I feel allegiance to Ottawa,” said Pruneau. “I thought about what was going to make me happy. Obviously, I wanted to feel respected, I wasn’t going to take just any offer. I knew there would be a couple of teams interested, maybe I get $10,000 more, but would I be happy? You want to be happy. I’m close to my family and my friends, I enjoy the city and I enjoy everybody I work with within the organization.”
Going into his fourth year in the CFL, Pruneau is looking forward to the 2017 season. He wants to build off his mis-steps as he bounced between SAM linebacker and safety a year ago. At times, he was “pissed off.” But it helped him grow on and off the field.
“I got benched after a game in Montreal where I played terrible,” he said. “The next week, I wouldn’t have played myself. After that, I think I played more aggressive football, I got back to playing what got me there in the first place. It was a good learning process for me. I had some stuff to correct. I knew I wasn’t doing enough.”
BEAR HAS HATE ON: In a nine-team league, Montreal Alouettes star linebacker Bear Woods says, “I hate eight teams.” But being part of this CFL Week, with so many other stars on hand, he said, “Seeing the guys here, ‘Oh, you are such good guys, I want you all to be terrible guys.’ I don’t shake hands after the game, not because I’m unsportsmanlike, I want these guys to still be the enemy. When you play a team three times, you just have animosity in a professional senses toward other players.”
CH-CH-CHANGES: Redblacks GM Marcel Desjardins talked about losing some of the team’s key players and replacing them with free agents: “The cap dictates what we can and can’t do. We knew there would be casualties. We reacted as quickly as we could, knowing that once we got to noon on free agency day we were going to have to replace those guys.”
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