So what's going to happen now?
The CFLPA is getting together for its annual meeting this weekend in Las Vegas and more talks are scheduled with the league in mid-April. Basically, there are four potential scenarios in play:
1. The league and players sign a new deal: While the two sides are miles apart at the moment, the fact there hasn't been a labour stoppage in the CFL since 1974 would seem to suggest the most likely outcome is cooler heads prevail and a deal gets done neither side is thrilled with, but at least can abide.
2. The league and players continue to negotiate and the 2014 season begins without a deal: Some players, as well as a handful of coaches and GMs across the league, have been critical of the fact serious negotiations didn't even begin until this month, leaving some very critical issues -- including such basics as the amount of this year's salary cap -- unresolved with just two months to go until the start of training camp. A players association rep said he'd be open to beginning a season without a new contract, provided some meaningful progress has been made in talks between now and then. You'd have to figure the league would also prefer that scenario to an outright work stoppage, if it comes to that.
3. The players strike: The CFL is the second-highest paying league in pro football and every player in it would already be playing in the best-paying one -- the NFL -- if they could. So the bottom line here is all the other options for CFL players are worse than the one they already have in the CFL if they decide to walk out. So if the players walk, they're going to either get paid less in something like the Arena League -- or they're not going to get paid at all. And in a profession where careers are so short to begin with -- the average career is 3.3 years, according to a disputed number put out by the NFLPA -- missing even one paycheque is a comparatively big loss.
Still, the CFL players think a shiny new league TV deal, a new franchise in Ottawa and all the new stadiums that have either opened or are opening give them leverage in these negotiations like they've never had before. Plus, the large, testosterone-addled men that make up the CFLPA feel like they got taken advantage of in the last contract negotiation and are determined to walk back the concessions they gave up last time.
4. The owners lock the players out: Not going to happen. This isn't the NFL or the NHL and CFL commissioner Mark Cohon is not going to be the one to stop the 2014 season before it starts.
So what are the major issues?
1. The biggest issue is economic. The players used to earn a percentage of league revenues but gave that up in the last round of contract negotiations and now have a hard salary cap -- $4.4 million last season.
The players say they made that concession in 2010 to help the league get back on its financial feet and now that the league has a record new TV deal with TSN, worth $40 million a season, they want revenue sharing back. The CFLPA's opening position this month in contract talks was they want a 56 per cent share of total revenues, but that's ridiculous and they know it. They would happily take 50 per cent.
The league, on the other hand, says a return to revenue sharing is a non-starter. While the CFL concedes the new TV deal is almost triple the value of the last one, they point out all these new stadiums that have been built (Winnipeg); are being built (Hamilton, Saskatchewan); have been renovated (Montreal, B.C., Edmonton); or are going to be renovated (Landsdowne Park, Toronto's BMO Place, under a current proposal) cost big bucks too.
The league's opening position to the players earlier this month was a tiny increase to the salary cap, which would eventually get the cap to about $5 million per season when the contract the league is proposing expires -- in 2022. An eight-year term is ridiculous and the league knows it. And so is such a modest cap increase, which the league also knows. There's give in the CFL's position on both terms.
2. Non-economic issues. These are vastly less important, but still contentious.
The league, for instance, wants changes to the way a player's work- week hours are calculated. Right now, players can only be made to work a maxium number of hours per day; the league would like to change that to a maximum number of hours per week.
The players balk at the idea, saying it's just a way of making them work longer hours during those short weeks when their team plays a game, say, on a Sunday and then has to play again, say, the following Friday.
On the flip side, the players want less contact during practices. They say every player already knows how to hit at the professional level and it's all the little hits they take during practice -- more than the big hits during the game -- that shortens their careers.
The league is balking at that idea, suggesting full-contact practices are essential preparation for high-performance play and a reduction in contact during practice would reduce the quality of play fans see during games every week.