CFL Pass

Canadian Football League moves the goalposts on a deal with players

The Canadian Football League has kicked the can down the road. Again.

Friday was the league’s self-imposed deadline for a deal with the CFL Players Association to rework the collective bargaining agreement for 2020, allowing for a shortened season to proceed in September in Winnipeg, where CFL players and personnel would live for several weeks in a so-called “bubble” environment.

But outstanding CBA issues still remain and the league has extended their own deadline to next week, amid hopes there will be definitive word from the federal government on the CFL’s request for about $40 million in financial aid. The league has stated to the players that “significant” support from Ottawa must be in place for the CFL to launch a 2020 season.

The CFLPA’s bargaining committee informed membership of the deadline extension in a memo sent Friday afternoon, following its latest negotiation session with the CFL’s player relations committee. The CFLPA will also hold a town hall meeting with its membership on Monday to discuss the talks in more detail.

“We are continuing to engage in discussions with the league on the outstanding issues of the health and safety of players, quality of life in the bubble, medical coverage, surgeries, game schedules and others,” the CFLPA memo stated. “We await a decision early next week from the federal government when we can work to finalize certainty of compensation for players who are prepared to commit to playing in the 2020 season.

“The league has extended the deadline of today July 24th that they previously imposed as they await decisions from the health authorities and the federal government regarding funding and confirmation of health protocols.”

The only CFL statement came earlier in the afternoon, and it was not definitive.

“Bargaining continues, and when and if we have significant news to share, we will share it,” a spokesperson said in a text message.

So CFL players and team personnel will continue to tread water over the weekend. More than four months since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down most activity, including pro sport, and about six weeks since the 2020 season should have kicked off, nine CFL teams and hundreds of players wait, livelihoods hanging in the balance.

The CFLPA’s bargaining committee had forecast that very scenario in a memo to membership sent Friday morning.

“Although we have made significant progress, we have yet to engage in meaningful discussions around pay,” the memo stated. “We will continue to engage them on this but until the federal government makes a decision on financial support for the league, it is unlikely we will be able to finalize an agreement today.”

The CFL’s starting offer of pro-rated pay for six games and no pension contributions is a non-starter for most players, but apparently won’t improve unless the federal government contributes funding. In a wide-ranging, insightful interview with Regina Leader-Post football scribe Murray McCormick on Thursday, Saskatchewan’s player rep Brett Lauther made it clear that 33% doesn’t cut it.

“The rest of the league is being paid 80% of their salaries and collecting cheques and we’re out here getting nothing and no help. Thirty-three per cent for the players isn’t enough when we’re watching the hierarchy making big dollars.”

He was referring to the fact that CFL head office staff and most coaches have accepted pay cuts of 20%, but are indeed still being paid. Players who did not receive an off-season bonus have not been paid since last season.

The interminable wait for salary and actual movement toward a season has prompted some CFLers, like most outstanding player Brandon Banks, to publicly opt out. Banks reiterated his position during a Twitter back-and-forth on Friday with TSN analyst Milt Stegall, who predicted Banks would reverse his decision and decide to play if the CFL went back to work.

“It’s not worth it! 6 games?” Banks Tweeted. “I have kids and family that needs me and me going to a bubble not able to see them! No it’s not about money but 33% that’s playing for free for Americans.”

Montreal offensive tackle Tony Washington expressed frustration with the notion that the league is at a standstill until Ottawa makes a decision on funding.

“Everything is on pause until the government moves. Ok … It’s not like my work visa is closed and I only can work for the Alouettes. So even if I wanted to work I couldn’t unless I left my whole life in Canada and went back to states?!!? Great!”

There was some activity in Winnipeg, which would host all nine teams through a two-week training camp, 27 regular season games, six playoff games and the Grey Cup. The Manitoba government named its volunteer “hub city” committee, which includes former Blue Bombers GM Paul Robson, former players James Murphy and Obby Khan, and former CFL governor David Asper. It is mandated to provide community oversight on the CFL’s hub city planning.