Why the growth of the CEBL and CPL is so valuable amidst absent university sports

Without university sport competition this year, Canadian student-athletes have had to make adjustments to their career path, given their eligibility and academic progress. Young Canadian athletes outside of university have also dealt with cancellations, seen with the CFL not playing this year, and the wide majority of minor hockey leagues (OHL, QMJHL, WHL) postponing parts of their seasons. 

Two leagues in Canada, however, took a different route and saw tremendous growth across Canada, keeping fans engaged and having players compete. Although managing a global pandemic, The Canadian Elite Basketball League and Canadian Premier League, a professional soccer league, were able to collaborate in their respective leagues and develop a plan to ensure games were played. 

With the CFL on the sidelines and hockey cancelled, the CEBL and CPL took advantage of the situation in the safest manner possible, as they continued to grow their respective games across the country. 

The CEBL became the first professional league in the country to return to play this past summer and successfully ran two-week tournament style series in a bubble environment. Similarly, the CPL worked through many of the issues related to the pandemic and completed a near flawless bubble style tournament, calling it the “Island games.” 

Both leagues are valuable to Canadian student-athletes at Laurier and across USPORTS as they each draft players directly from university schools in Canada. Star fourth-year Laurier guard, Ali Sow was selected by the Guelph Nighthawks 12th overall in last year’s CEBL draft. 

Laurier men’s basketball coach, Justin Serresse had his eyes glued to the CEBL when they returned this past summer, and he wasn’t the only one. Over the two weeks of play, the league garnered a tremendous audience and saw incredible growth from the previous year.

 Broadcasted on CBC and TSN, the CEBL reached over 1.3 million viewers and had some of the biggest sports reporters in the country talking about it. 

Serresse believes it is a valuable and competitive league that some of his players should consider. 

“Ntore [Habimana], Ben [Stevens], obviously Ali should be looking at the league for next summer.” 

Both Serresse and Sow view the league as a great experience for players to play against top competition and sharpen their craft. 

The CPL has also proved to be valuable for university student-athletes across the country as they are partnered with USPORTS for an annual draft. While Laurier has not had a player selected to the CPL from their men’s soccer team, many players across the OUA have become successful in the top soccer league in Canada.  

Given the lack of competition this year, the CPL pushed the draft back to January to allow for more scouting to be done. 

The “Island games” proved to be a great success and soccer in Canada continues to be a rapidly growing sport especially at the youth level. 

The CPL also gained attention given the success of the Hamilton Forge who advanced to play against some of the top youth clubs in the North/Central America. The Forge played games in El Salvador, Honduras, Panama and the Dominican Republic. 

Having a Canadian soccer team represented internationally, including former USPORTS athletes, is a massive step for the CPL and the continued growth and expansion of soccer in Canada. 

Viewership and engagement with the CPL also saw an increase this year. 

Both leagues pride themselves as being a league “created by Canadians for Canadians,” #ourgame is the CEBL slogan, a reference to Dr. Naismith and the invention of basketball. 

The CEBL and CPL also employ the highest percentage of Canadian players in any professional league in North America, with over 80 per cent of the CEBL rosters and over 54 per cent of CPL rosters filled by Canadians. Compared to that of only 42 per cent of all NHL rosters. 

With the lack of competition this summer, it was remarkable to see both the CPL and CEBL pull off what they did. The decision-makers agreed on a safe proposal, delivered a trying but rather problem less bubble environment and most importantly kept competition ongoing and rather exciting. 

Not only was it remarkable to see done, but it was also very important to the landscape of soccer and basketball throughout this country. With the CFL not competing this year, there are serious questions about its long-term stability. 

The absence of university or youth baseball, as well as the Blue Jays playing games in Buffalo, raises questions about the interest towards baseball in the country. 

The CEBL and CPL by following through and implementing competition albeit much different than the previous seasons have avoided such questions. Soccer and basketball are two of the fastest growing sports across Canada and this summer competition combined with the results appear to show that they will continue to grow. 

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