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It's all about the money

Players, owners won't feel crunch until cash flow halts

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Canadian Football League commissioner Mark Cohon says he will never sign a CBA tying a salary cap to league revenue.

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Canadian Football League commissioner Mark Cohon says he will never sign a CBA tying a salary cap to league revenue.

Lost in the overwrought dismay at the other sides' refusal to capitulate was the fact the CFL and the CFLPA had actually come to agree upon a system and now only have to meet on the numbers.

Both commissioner Mark Cohon and his CFLPA counterpart Scott Flory got a little dramatic on Thursday in their description of labour talks that to this point haven't proven wholly fruitful.

The clock on the old CBA ran out and the talk of a strike grew hotter. But until a regular season game is missed, and the schedule doesn't begin until June 26th right here in Winnipeg when the Argos are slated to take on your Blue Bombers, this squabble isn't even messy let alone bloody.

The truth is the two sides now have agreed to a structure which would see the players work under a fixed cap for the next two seasons and then, if revenues in the league had grown by a certain extent, the CBA would be re-opened and the cap re-negotiated. They're calling it revenue protection. The players want it to kick in at $12 million while the league wants to wait until they've crested $27 million in new money.

The gulf in salary dollars between the two sides right now is meaningful, but it's not shut-down-the-business kind of money.

At the very widest of gaps, the difference between how much the CFL wants to pay in labour next year and what the players want to receive in salary is a little more than $2 million per team.

In a league, where according to Cohon the teams lost an aggregate $16 million last year, that seems like a lot of money. But we all know there is new TV money as well as improved stadium streams in Winnipeg and Hamilton that will help soften these losses.

Certainly the owners shouldn't fritter away all their new revenues on player salaries, but they have to expect to float some of these bucks the way of the men on the field.

Move the cap to $5.8 million or so, including all ratification bonuses and move the revenue protection number to $20 million and there's a basis for a deal that works for both sides.

Really guys, this isn't that tough for two sides that say they want nothing more than to play football.

From here the angst is a little overblown. And don't even mention the foolishness on Twitter.

The talk of "final best offer," and "we have no more to give," is nonsense. No one ever means these things, even when they think they do.

There's always a little more room to wiggle. If not, no labour impasse would ever be solved. Ownership would huff and puff inside the building watching their businesses die while across the street employees would huddle around burning trash bins stoked by past-due mortgage and car-lease statements.

Certainly the owners shouldn't be forced to take a deal where losses are expected, but this is professional football and by nature the players have to be paid. Pesky, yes, but nonetheless a reality.

Just as the players don't have to play football for pay if they don't like the rate, it's also true the owners don't have to own if they don't like the sketchy economics of the CFL.

Which brings us all to where we are today. The players are poised to go on strike and could be on the picket line early next week. But it's not much of a pressure point.

Not until teams start to miss gate receipts, TV revenue and are forced to issue sponsorship and ticket refunds will they start to feel the pinch.

For players, the first week of the regular season when game cheques would normally be issued will mark the beginning of the true days of discomfort.

Until then, it's teeth gnashing of the nervous Nellie variety.

Early in these talks, Flory said it wasn't about the numbers, but the system. Now, with the revenue protection clause, he's got a version of the structure he wanted.

Similarly, Cohon said he would never sign a deal that incorporated a salary system which tied revenue to the cap. This is now off the table, satisfying his biggest concern.

So, shocking as it may seem, it's all about the money.

Make an offer, Mark. Or beat him to the punch with one of your own, Scott.

The system is in place. Use it as a basis to bargain and compromise.

It's really only first down, fellas. No need to punt, just yet.

Get back in the huddle.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 30, 2014 C1

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Updated on Friday, May 30, 2014 at 7:01 AM CDT: Replaces photo

8:32 AM: adds fact box

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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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