So, we go into uncharted waters.
It looks like we’ve already tested just about everything in the Canadian Football League. But a collective agreement rejected by the members after it was negotiated by its own negotiating committee and recommended by its representatives? Well, this is new.
Let’s quickly recap how we got here before we get where we might be headed.
CFL players went on strike on May 14, the day before training camps opened, rejecting the league’s latest offer. That deal brought in some big wins for players, but also reduced the number of true Canadian starters from seven to six. (Three teams—Edmonton, Calgary, and Montreal—continued to train because they weren’t on legal strike based on district ordinance.)
Four days later, on May 18, the two parties reached an agreement in principle. The league has improved its giving to players in several areas, but the percentage has fallen, primarily from seven to five and a half — four full-time starting innings and three where players can be restricted to 51 percent of shots.
Essentially, the CFLPA agreed that up to three US veteran players could get up to 49 percent of the picks for up to three Canadians. It sounds complicated but the end result is simple – more shots for Americans and less for Canadians. And where the playing time goes, the money follows.
There has always been low-grade tension between the Canadian and American players in the CFL. Canadian players usually earn more doing the same job, due to the laws of supply and demand. Even some Canadian backups earn more than some American beginners.
This is why CFLPA leadership has one of the toughest jobs in all of professional sports – it represents the interests of Canadian and American players, which don’t always line up. In fact, what is good for one party is sometimes bad for the other.
So, it’s not hard to see why the ratio turned out to be the most divisive issue among the players and why the perception that Canadian players should have killed the deal.
The CFLPA also has the job of negotiating against a group of owners who are collectively losing money, something their counterparts in the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL don’t have to do.
It will always be difficult to make significant financial gains against this background.
Regardless of the ratio, there was apparently a perception among some players that they would receive an endorsement bonus, something neither side brought to the negotiating table, according to sources.
Where do we go from here?
The CFL teams train on Tuesday, and the CFLPA has a new show from the league on its hands.
Players will see the upcoming pre-season games (which are set to begin Friday night) as a clear point of impact, knowing that teams make good money from those games where players aren’t fully paid.
Although sentiments are running high on both sides, there is a strong interest in both sides to come up with a deal quickly and move on so that the season is not interrupted.
This can be resolved quickly and without much drama
If not, who knows where things might go? Will the players return to strike? Will the league choose to lock down players, a complex concept given that it is currently housing and feeding them — something it has committed to doing during boot camp, regardless of career work.
It’s unlikely we’ll get to more aggressive tactics, such as setting deadlines with threats to cancel parts of the season. Or the federation started moving players home.
But few people thought we would get to that point.
CFLPA CEO Brian Ramsey was in office when the last CBA agreement was negotiated in 2019, and union president Solomon Elmian took office shortly thereafter. Both spent countless hours negotiating amendments to that agreement, which the pandemic made necessary in 2020 and 2021.
They struck a deal in which the league moved dramatically in many areas it had previously been unwilling to go into — partially guaranteed contracts, raising the salary cap, revenue sharing, and raising the minimum salary.
But they and their players’ representatives could not sell it to their members.
Now, it is not wrong to point out that the next 72 hours may be among the most important hours for the CFL in a very long time.