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CFL talks reach crucial stage

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It appears, as it always ends up in these negotiations, the two sides in the CFL’s labour dispute have come to the realization they need one another and must find a way to a compromise that works for both.

CFL commissioner Mark Cohon and his bargaining committee spent most of Wednesday talking with CFLPA leader Scott Flory and his top men and they’ve agreed to talk again Thursday.

"It’s been a long day of meetings and we’ll meet again (Thursday)," said Cohon, in a brief chat with media where he answered no questions and signed off saying, "that’s a good thing."

No proposals were passed between the two sides on Wednesday, but a number of concepts were discussed and viewed from the perspective of both sides. No longer was the tone about, "our way" and "your way." It would be a stretch to say there was collaboration, but acrimony has been replaced with a spirit of good faith bargaining. This wasn’t the endgame but it was a positive step.

This is the first real bargaining the two sides have done, and with the CBA set to expire Thursday at 10:59 p.m., there is finally the pressure of time on these talks.

The time to bluff and bluster is over. The time to deal has arrived. Or face the consequences of not reaching an agreement. Those consequences have become real to all involved and not just those doing the negotiations. Players are considering life without paycheques. Member clubs are coming to understand they won’t be able to pay staff or meet debt obligations.

The impending ugliness is no longer a hazy mirage. It’s become a raised scythe with the potential to drop and chop. Some have realized they may not be able to withstand the bleeding and that’s created a willingness to bargain.

Certainly talks could still falter but it’s becoming clear both sides are motivated to reach a deal and make sure players are on the field soon and that no regular season games are missed. Neither side, despite all the rhetoric spewed last week, can afford to miss the cash that begins to flow once the season begins. TV money, sponsorships and ticket revenue all dry up on the league side if there are no games. For players, it’s as simple as no play, no pay.

The easy presumption was that the players of the CFL would be broke after a winter of no paycheques and easy fodder for ownership. The leverage would all be on the side of the owners. Turns out, in a league where few teams turn a meaningful profit, the need to get the turnstiles humming after a cold and cashless winter is just as great.

Both sides pushed their case to see if the other would buckle. Neither did. And now the prospect of missing games and the subsequent loss in cash for all involved has made compromise far more appealing.

A deal wasn’t done Wednesday, but the foundation to reach one was laid. The two sides are now trying to understand one another’s position and find a common langauge.

This debate isn’t all that complex. The players are underpaid and want to rectify their situation. The owners understand this and want to begin a move towards healthier paycheques but want to be judicious and keep salaries in check while continuing a push to make the league a healthy entity.

Ownership needs to give. But not until it hurts.

The players should get a larger take but have to understand a medium portion today will help grow the pie and lead to bigger slices for everyone.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @garylawless

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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 www.winnipegfreepress.com
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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