CFL commissioner Mark Cohon must decide what he wants more: Football on the field or the CFLPA on its knees.
With each passing day, Cohon and the league’s force grows in these negotiations with the players’ union. The league holds, if not all, a great majority of the cards. But winning at all costs will not result in a victory. It will diminish the league and the sport in Canada.
It would be far better if Cohon and union leader Scott Flory were able to reach a mutual agreement and not one pinned to the players’ backs against their wishes. Cohon must find a way to be magnanimous. Flory must find a way to save face for his players and get the best deal possible. The clock is ticking on all involved.
Make no mistake, if this becomes a war of attrition, ownership and its millions will outlast the players and their much smaller bank accounts. If Flory and the union wait too long, the offer they currently are looking at from ownership will shrink and players will be forced to accept an even lesser deal.
On Monday night, Flory and the union made some changes to their previous offer and submitted it to the league, only to have it summarily rejected. Cohon appears to have been serious when he said his last offer was his best in a diplomatic version of "take it or leave it."
In any event, the players have now made the last two offers and are negotiating against their own position, leaving little reason for Cohon to do anything but wait.
What if Cohon refuses to budge from his last offer? What if he elects to play hardball and set a lockout date, with instructions his last offer comes off the table at the moment there is a labour disruption of any kind, whether it be league or player activated?
Nothing good for the players and it says here it won’t be beneficial for the league. The best deals leave both sides satisfied. There’s still room for such an outcome but it will require clear thinking on Flory’s behalf and leadership on Cohon’s.
Flory has some leverage but it’s limited. In the end, the CFLPA will have to take what the league offers them and any conclusion that suggests differently is not based in reality. It’s becoming more and more clear the union needs to get a deal and avoid a work stoppage of any kind. The minute ownership begins to lose money as a result of a labour disruption, it’s fathomable the league will pay for those losses with reductions to the CBA offer.
Certainly, it’s in the best interest of the league to strike a fair deal and make the players as close to happy as possible, but beyond that, this is their ball and the players are without much power.
This is not the NHL or any other major professional league where the players have the financial clout to coerce ownership.
To be blunt, most CFL players don’t have the means to withstand much of a work stoppage. How many of them care about the long-term picture is also in question.
These areas are not up for debate where the league is concerned.
David Braley (Vancouver, Toronto), Bob Young (Hamilton), Bob Wetenhall (Montreal), Murray Edwards and his ownership group (Calgary), Jeff Hunt (Ottawa) as well as the cities of Regina, Winnipeg and Edmonton have the money to stick this fight out.
Over the years, CFL ownership has also demonstrated through words and actions they care deeply about the future of the league. They haven’t run from any fight in the past, which is exactly what owning a franchise in this beleaguered loop has often been, and they won’t now.
They have become united in their desperate battle to keep this league afloat. They will be obstinate in their push to get a deal that helps secure the league’s future.
Flory is in a precarious position. If he folds and accepts what the league has on the table, this negotiation will be viewed as a failure. If he pushes too hard, what his players are eventually forced to sign will be a disaster.
The one man that can throw Flory a life preserver is Cohon and it’s actually in the commissioner’s best interest to do so. Crushing the union does the league no good. They need a healthy players’ association and, more importantly, a strong relationship between the league and its players.
Cohon has a chance in the next day or so to get his league back on track by going to Flory with an olive branch, a few tweaks to the deal Flory can take back to his constituents and recommend as a fair offer.
Guaranteed, the players will ratify.
This isn’t a fight between personalities. This is an opportunity for the CFL to take a step forward and head down the road to stability and sustainability.
It’s time to lead, Mr. Commissioner. Wrap your arms around the players and make this league whole again. Everyone wins.