Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Take the money and run, CFL owners

Next time it will be players' turn to profit

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The CBA being foisted on the players' association will do little to dissuade the notion the CFL is a minor league.

Minor-league minimum salary and minor-league working conditions are the hallmarks of this deal.

While the agreement buys ownership a little more time to gird itself, the stewards of the game must use their negotiated window effectively. The league must bring the professional three-down game into an era of raised standards both financially and in player safety.

Crying poor again in five years will be a signal to the most ardent of supporters our quaint little game is exactly that. Little. The balls may be bigger but the thinking and execution much smaller.

Commissioner Mark Cohon, should the deal he negotiated with the CFLPA executive be ratified, will have delivered a closed-fist agreement. A pact that leaves the bulk of soon-to-be-arriving revenues from a historic broadcast agreement and new stadiums in the hands of the owners. Cohon also avoided shelling out for independent sideline doctors to enforce concussion protocol, which represents financial savings but is assuredly shortsighted in the overall picture.

Cohon has set the table for owners to finally eat, and in some cases, eat well. The road to stability and sustainability has finally unfurled itself.

But the individual franchises must now comport themselves with efficiency and purpose rather than weaving about like a band of merry Grey Cup drunks.

When the players come to the table at the end of this agreement, Cohon should greet them, first with a word of thanks, and then better compensation and rigid work-safety protocols, regardless of the expense.

Owning a professional sports franchise, like any other business, doesn't come with a guarantee of profit. The business must be properly run and hopefully, at the end of a lot of hard work, some money will be left over.

Labour costs are part of the equation. So is taking on the responsibility of ensuring athletes play in safe conditions. If a franchise can't generate enough revenue to meet these standards, ownership needs to meet the shortfall. If that's not appealing, take up golf or sailing. No ego stroke, but no nasty profit and loss statements drowning in red ink.

Playing pro sports is a rough business. Especially in a land of non-guaranteed contracts where the axe can fall at any time.

Owning a sports team can be just as tough. Not every club comes with massive broadcast payouts and screaming franchise values.

Just like the players understand the frailty of their careers, however, so should owners be prepared to live up to their end.

Sell tickets, pay players and deal with the surplus or shortfall as one sees fit. No fuss, no muss.

So take the money and run, boys. Use this opportunity to galvanize the CFL and step into a new light.

For anything less, minor league will be an apt description. Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 9, 2014 C3

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.


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