The CFL and its players' association took a giant step Wednesday towards what would be the league's first work stoppage since 1974.
A day that began with the league walking away from the bargaining table and going over the head of the players' union directly to players and fans, ended with both sides doing exactly what they both pledged they'd never do -- negotiate through the media.
CFL commissioner Mark Cohon, who had been steadfast all spring in his refusal to publicly discuss the league's negotiations with the CFL Players' Association on a new collective bargaining agreement, couldn't stop talking once he started, doing one-on-one interviews with reporters across the country and taking to talk radio.
Cohon went so far as to accuse the CFLPA of "trying to take us back to the days when we needed telethons to survive."
The CFLPA, meanwhile, fought back aggressively with its own PR offensive, holding a news conference at a Toronto hotel, issuing a "letter to fans" and then turning players loose on Twitter as the union tried to make a case for a fair deal from an increasingly flush league after years of making concessions.
'Players in the CFL are not overpaid in terms of professional athlete standards. If anything, the CFL should be embarrassed by how much (players) are paid'
"Players in the CFL are not overpaid in terms of professional athlete standards," said CFLPA counsel Ed Molstad. "If anything, the CFL should be embarrassed by how much (players) are paid."
The main point of contention remains what it has been since Day 1 -- the players insist any new deal to replace the current one that expires at the end of the month must include a return to a revenue- sharing model.
The league, meanwhile, was adamant while it will entertain an increase to the salary cap, revenue sharing is a non-starter.
"Every other organization in every other sports league has been about taking away from the players. What we're offering the players is more. And we want to communicate that directly to the players," Cohon told the Free Press Wednesday afternoon.
The CFLPA and its members don't dispute they're getting more in the league's last proposal -- the salary cap would rise immediately to $4.8 million from $4.4 million, while the minimum league salary would go to $50,000 from $45,000.
Those figures would rise to $5.05 million and $55,000, respectively, by the final year of the six-year deal the CFL is proposing.
In addition to front-loading the increases to make them most palatable to players voting for or against a strike this month, the league has also offered veterans a $3,000 signing bonus and rookies a $1,000 signing bonus if they agree to a new collective bargaining agreement before June 2.
Even with those enticements, the CFLPA said the increase is not enough given the league's nine teams will become the beneficiary of a new deal with TSN that will see TV revenues more than double this season.
The CFLPA's most recent proposal, which was submitted to the league Tuesday and then summarily rejected, calls for the salary cap to rise immediately to $6.24 million for the 2014 season and then be tied to TV, sponsorship and ticket revenues after that. Molstad said the league modelled its proposal on the one the NFL has with its players.
Molstad scoffed at the notion the union's proposal was going to drive the league back into the poorhouse, noting the Saskatchewan Roughriders took in more than $34 million in revenues in 2012 but paid out just $4.4 million in player salaries.
"What we're asking for is not outrageous at all," said Molstad. "Where's the management (salary) cap? Where's the cap for every other expense the teams have other than players?"
The CFLPA said strike ballots have already been mailed out to all its members and should begin trickling in soon, except in Alberta where provincial legislation means players on the Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Eskimos cannot vote until the current agreement expires May 29 at midnight, said Molstad.
Molstad said he expected voting in Alberta to take place May 30 -- just two days before training camps are set to open.
Molstad hedged when asked if the CFLPA would be willing to have players report to training camp without a contract. He said the union would only entertain such a move if they first had a firm agreement with the CFL an eventual contract would include revenue sharing.
Cohon was circumspect when asked if the CFL could lock the players out.
"If they're in a position to strike, that puts us in a legal position to lock them out," said Cohon. "But that's not our objective."
Cohon was also reluctant to discuss the prospect of the league bringing in replacement players.
"Legally in Quebec you can't use replacement players and I don't even want to have that dialogue," said Cohon. "We owe it to our fans to get our players on the field and playing football."
Cohon estimated home teams would lose about $2 million in game revenue for every regular-season game that isn't played in the event of a labour disruption.
And that would be just the beginning of the losses -- Cohon said the league would also not get a cheque from TSN for any cancelled games.