CFL Pass

BARNES: Consider the merits of a six-game Canadian Football League season

A list of popular opinions on a six-game Canadian Football League season would have to include “never going to happen,” a “complete waste of time,” and this hopeful gem from Saskatchewan Roughriders kicker Brett Lauther.

“I think this year, if we did play, would be super interesting,” Lauther said in an interview with Postmedia late last month. “It will be who is ready to go, and who is going to survive what’s going on. It’s going to be a lot more of a grind mentally for a lot of guys, but this year might be one of the hardest ever to win a Grey Cup.

“Everyone is going to be on an even playing field — no indoor or outdoor, colder or warmer games — so everyone is going to be going through the same adversity. Six games and eight teams make (the playoffs), that’s pretty fair because you’re really going to find the one team that’s the weakest and then after that, like any other year in the CFL, any team can get hot and win it.”

If there is a 2020 campaign — and that lingering uncertainty has to preface every discussion of the CFL — in its current incarnation it would see teams playing six regular season games in six weeks at IG Field in Winnipeg through October and the first half of November, meaning teams would play on turnarounds as short as four days. That’s a significant part of the grind Lauther was talking about. Players would also be isolated in hotel rooms for much of their stay, which encompasses a week of quarantine upon arrival in mid-September, a two-week training camp and potentially two weeks through two rounds of playoffs before the Grey Cup in late November. That’s another part of what would fast become an unprecedented grind.

Given those unique logistics, what should a six-game season be worth financially? Certainly not a mere 33 per cent of the players’ contracted salaries, a number that formed the backbone of the CFL’s opening offer during negotiations with the CFL Players Association on an amended Collective Bargaining Agreement. It was a significant bone of contention, one that provoked some players into declaring publicly that they simply wouldn’t risk their health and spend as much as 11 weeks away from their families for a measly 33 per cent.

Lauther was one of them, saying it was a non-starter for him, because it simply wasn’t fair. Hamilton wide receiver Brandon Banks was another. His erstwhile teammate Delvin Breaux Sr. appears to be making the same decision. And Montreal running back James Wilder Jr. was the first to take a pass on 2020.

Sixty-six players opted out of the National Football League season, for an average of about two per team. So there may well be more CFLers to decide for reasons of health and finances and otherwise that it doesn’t make sense for them.

However, recent improvements to the compensation package, which includes pension contributions and per diems, might convince some waffling CFL players to suit up, if there is a season. While meeting in small groups on and off for the past week, the league and players association resolved many outstanding CBA issues and made significant progress on total compensation, though that likely can’t be finalized until the league finds out if it will have access to federal government money to cover salaries and hub city expenses.

So round and round we go. The first week of August has come and gone and there has still been no decision to play or scrap the 2020 season. The league still awaits word from the federal government on a request for financial aid, which according to CP reporter Dan Ralph has been lowered from more than $40 million to a $30-million interest-free loan. An email to Postmedia from Heritage Ministry press secretary Camille Gagne on Friday said “there is no new information to be shared.”

There wasn’t much emanating from a league governors call on Thursday afternoon either. The governors did not reach a decision on the fate of the 2020 season, and a source said there is “more work to be done.”

Indeed that’s the case. There are still some outstanding issues to be negotiated with the CFLPA, including the opt-out process. And the league is still dealing with the federal and Manitoba governments on the logistics of their health and safety protocols for the prospective bubble environment in Winnipeg. A source with knowledge of those talks said “no sweeping changes” would be necessary to the protocol document, as it has met with initial approval.

Everyone involved in putting that document together surely hopes that the planned six-game season happens, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.


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