For those of us still concerned about the ongoing labour dispute between the CFL and CFLPA, it is important to recognize that with each day that passes, with the players' full participation at training camp, the more remote any notion of a strike becomes.
The players, to a man, are pretty much playing this conflict entirely by ear, because none of them -- save for legal council Ed Molstad-- has any experience walking off of the job, and neither do I for that matter. Yet, you don't have to be an active player to know that with every practice, with every meeting, with every team drill, it gets harder and harder for a CFL player to step away from their commitment to football this season.
With the commencement of on-field activities on Sunday, even the best-laid plans begin to erode from the compelling force that is training camp. As a player, there are two things that disrupt both your physical and mental balance every season; the abruptness with how the season ends, and the overwhelming sense when it starts up all over again.
The day after your last regular-season game, or elimination from the playoffs, these athletes go from a regimented schedule where most every waking hour of the day is counted for, to a "to do list," of cleaning out your locker and saying goodbye.
At the other end of the spectrum, the first day of training camp is an even more dramatic shift than when the hostilities cease. There is no transition from an off-season that runs from December to June. There is no gradually dipping your toes back in the waters of professional football and easing yourself back into the military precision scheduling. When training camp started across this country on Sunday, rest assured every team hit the ground running at 100 km/h.
Veteran or not, rookie or otherwise, days now start at 6 a.m. and run until 8 or 9 at night. Playbooks are being handed out, and when you have new systems to implement on offence and defense -- well, without the playbooks for defence -- that is a lot of information to process and implement. Players will now be spending in excess of four hours on the field every day in a highly competitive and taxing environment. There will be bumps and bruises and nicks to treat, there will be hours of film to watch, and for those who really understand the profession, there will be weights to be lifted and conditioning levels to be maintained. Whether you are the most militant player-union advocate or a guy who just wants a new CBA to be signed, you no longer have time to think about things like labour unrest.
Add to this equation the influence and authority of the introduced variable called the coaching staff, and things get even more difficult for a player's resolve. At this time of the year, every coach is in a panic to get his guys ready. Every coach has a laundry list of sweat, contact and drilling he needs to get filled to get his guys performing at an instinctual level and able to blend into an offence, defence or special teams unit.
Now that they have their hands on these players, if you don't think they have the power to influence a number of their pupils away from participating in any sort of labour disruption, you've never met a successful CFL position coach or co-ordinator. All it takes is one player who just wants to play football and has had enough of the mud-slinging between the league and player executives to get the ball rolling, and the longer you practise, the harder it is to walk away from upcoming games.
Training camp is often the time when veterans start to realize they need to keep practising and keep getting better to protect their jobs from the underlings, and this may be the point where priorities start to shift.
While it is still entirely possible for the players to stick together -- if need be -- and force the league to hand over something they feel should be a part of the next CBA, with each day that passes, they are becoming more invested in an uninterrupted 2014 football season.
Hopefully, at the other end of the spectrum, the CFL is too.
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.