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Copeland: Impasse causing concern whether CFL season will start on time

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TORONTO - CFL president Michael Copeland says the ongoing labour dispute between the league and its players could prevent the regular season from starting on time.

The 2014 campaign is scheduled to open June 26. But the league and CFL Players' Association are at an impasse and a potential players' strike threatens the season starting as planned.

"Of course there's concern (about regular season starting as scheduled)," Copeland, who is also the league's COO, said Monday. "I don't think we could be at this point in training camp and not be concerned.

"But at the same time I'd say I'm hopeful because I believe in the strength of our offer. I think when the players have some more time with it, they'll realize it's good for them to. I'm hoping that can be basis of an agreement."

CFLPA president Scott Flory didn't return two telephone messages Monday.

The two sides haven't met since Thursday. Copeland said no new talks were scheduled as of Monday afternoon.

However, according to TSN, the CFLPA tabled a new four-year offer late Monday that was rejected by the league. The proposal reduced its salary cap demand from $5.8 million to $5.2 million, TSN said. The players also reportedly amended their revenue protection clause where it would have the right to renegotiate the cap in league revenues increased by $12 million in the third year of the deal. The players increased that figure to $18 million, according to TSN.

The CFL and players met for more than 17 hours over two days last week. Both the union and the league tabled offers that were rejected by the other side.

Training camps opened as scheduled Sunday but a players' strike remains a strong possibility. Strike ballots have already been sent out but due to Alberta labour laws, the players won't be able to strike en masse until next week.

Copeland said the league would welcome the resumption of talks as long as the "best and final offer" the CFL presented last week was the basis for discussion.

"As we said to the executive, we're certainly not closed to talking but it has to be talk that's within the parameters of the proposed agreement that we put on the table," Copeland said. "By all means, if the PA executive wants to dig into that a little bit deeper, wants clarification of certain aspects of it, wants to make suggestions based on the framework of that offer then we're open to listening to them."

In its most recent proposal, the players' association called for a $5.8-million salary cap increasing three per cent annually with a $4.8-million minimum. That was down from its original demand of a $6.24-million ceiling and $5.84-million floor. Last year, the CFL operated with a $4.4-million cap.

The union also wants a $15,000 ratification bonus for veterans and just one weekly padded practice during the season while maintaining its original position on pre-season and playoff compensation as well as pensions. It would like the elimination of the option year from CFL contracts, except for new players, and independent neurologists on the sidelines during games.

The league's offer calls for a $5-million salary cap (up from $4.8 million) and boosts the average player salary to $96,000 (up from $92,917 in its original offer). It also calls for ratification bonuses of $5,000 for veterans and $1,500 for rookies.

The CFL contends the players' salary cap proposal excludes benefits, pensions, pre-season and post-season monies as well as ratification bonuses. If those are included, the league argues, the cap would be well more than $6 million in the first year and result in six of the nine teams losing money.

The CFLPA has also amended its stance on revenue sharing. Instead of wanting specific percentages of gross revenues, sponsorships and gate money, the players proposed allowing for a fixed cap for at least two years. After the second, if league revenues increased by more than $12 million — excluding the Grey Cup — the two sides would renegotiate the cap or the CBA would be terminated at season's end.

Under the league's proposal, the salary cap would be renegotiated if its revenues increased by $27 million or more in the third year of the deal.

"We want to get a deal done, we want to be in camp without this being a topic of conversation," said Copeland. "We want to focus on football."

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