THE face of the simmering CFL labour war is the guy earning $45,000. But that’s not at all what it’s about.
The players association is right when they say its players don’t make enough money, but it’s not true across the board and that’s why this fight should be more about league minimums than an increased salary cap.
The players will be in position to go out on strike on Tuesday in accordance with Alberta labour laws, meaning it’s likely the Bombers will host the Argos on Monday in a pre-season game, and if they hit the picket line in pursuit of a higher salary cap a lot of men will be sacrificing for the gain of a few.
In the NHL, increases to the cap have served to squeeze out the middle class and unless the CFL’s minimum salary is properly adjusted, the next CBA will push the league farther down a road towards a class structure of haves and have-nots.
The stars always get their money, and in the CFL, quarterbacks and starting Canadians take up a good chunk of the cap. If the cap goes up, so will their salaries, and likely by an disproportionate amount to the rest of the players in the league. Is that what this negotiation should be about? Getting more money for the already well-paid few?
The fact the CFLPA proposed the new minimum of $50,000 and the number was then agreed upon by the league is telling. This is far less about the salaries of the many and more about those of the few.
If the players association and CFL want to help out more players and get the game back on the field, boost the minimum and pull back on the top end of the cap proposals.
If this is, in actuality, a fight about helping out the underpaid, what about the truly little guy? Shouldn’t more of the focus be on the bottom end? Shouldn’t the DB from Tuscaloosa have the opportunity to earn a fair wage?
Or, in this league and union, is that a right reserved only for Canadians and quarterbacks? United as one, indeed.
The players’ union has asked for the league minimum to be raised by $5,000 in the first year of the deal and then by $1,000 every year after and the league has agreed. Where the two sides differ, however, is in the degree by which the salary cap should increase.
The players want it to rise to $6 million over the course of a new CBA, while ownership has pegged the top of the cap at $5.15 million.
A compromise that keeps the cap at a manageable level for ownership but allows more players in the league to earn more money than they do today is easily achieved. Veterans also deserve to earn more, and the cap should rise to facilitate that. But right now, the fight is simply about "more," while it should centre on how to distribute future salary gains.
Two CFL general managers told the Free Press this week that any increase in the salary cap would result in quarterbacks and Canadian offensive linemen sponging up most of the new cash.
"The rank-and-file U.S.-born player isn’t going to see any of these gains. We (GMs) will spend the money on areas where there is limited supply and lots of demand. Quarterbacks and Canadian starters," said one of the GMs, demanding anonymity.
Cap increases, under both union and league offers, are unmarked and can be spent in any fashion.
"The same guys that get the most money today will be getting the most if the cap goes up," said another GM. "A higher cap won’t change how we pay guys just coming into the league or American players where supply outstrips demand. Quarterbacks and Canadian starters will eat up the cap, just like they do now."
A third GM, however, believes the gains would be spread around.
"I think it will be proportional," he said. "If the cap goes up a certain percentage, the salaries of all players will see an incremental raise. Or maybe there will be bidding wars for Canadians and quarterbacks and the rest of the guys will be paid the same as they are now. But I think a rise in the cap will benefit all players."
Why not prevent GMs from falling into such a trap? Why not make it so every player in the CFL can call his wage fair?
The players are right when they say, "We’re the show." They’re wrong, however, when they limit the protection of their brotherhood to the alreadyfortunate few. Every player on the field matters. The union accuses the league of not wanting to share new revenues, but in reality they’re just as bad when it comes to splitting the pie.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @garylawless