With strike ballots being sent out to players this week, and a final scheduled meeting -- reportedly Wednesday -- it is not too dramatic to suggest the CFL Players Association and the league have reached Defcon 1 in their negotiations.
While it has been confirmed another small step was taken last week during meetings -- it was disclosed the length of this CBA has been reduced from the initial requirement of eight years -- the two parties still have an incredible amount of ground to cover.
Up until last week, there was the hope the points of contention in this dispute could have been exaggerated, or misleading due to the fact members of only one negotiating party were disclosing information. Now that actual hard copies of the tabled proposals and responses have landed at numerous media sites, the facts may actually be worse than all initial speculation.
We had heard the new TV deal started with a disbursement of $40 million in 2014, but what many did not know until the receipt of these documents was that it goes up by a million dollars every year until 2018, where at $44 million, there is an option to renew for one more year.
So the new money, the money on top of what the teams are already getting from the TV deal, works out to be an additional $2.7 million per club the first year, and goes up from there. The financial proposal to the players from the league accounts for this windfall with two increases, and the first is their proposal the minimum salary goes to $46,000 from $45,000 and does not go up again until 2016.
The actual salary cap has two distinctions: what the minimum amount is each team has to spend, and what the maximum amount is each team can spend. In 2013, the minimum each club had to spend on salaries was $4 million and the maximum $4.4 million. The league has offered the minimum increase to $4.1 million and not increase again until 2016, and a maximum cap of $4.5 million, which either goes up by a $100,000 or $50,000 each year. No matter how sympathetic you may be to a league that has incurred new stadium debt with almost every franchise, $46,000 is not an acceptable salary for even the most marginal player risking life and limb in a professional football environment, and $100K for the salary cap is a pittance of this new pie of revenue that starts at almost three million, and increases every year.
If these figures seem insurmountable by themselves, it is important to realize they are a separate negotiation from the concept of revenue sharing, which is still not being discussed. I have read accounts that suggest revenue sharing is a ridiculous premise for the CFL and its union to reintroduce, yet it is a concept, up until the last CBA, that has existed between both parties for the last 30 years. Revenue sharing is a model employed by every professional sporting organization in North America, and while the percentages are negotiable, the idea both the players and the league benefit from collective successes, is not.
In any sporting framework, the ownership and the players are supposed to be a partnership. When one party tries to take advantage of the other due to perceived weakness or vulnerability, it undermines the working relationship between the two.
I recall a training camp in 2006 in Winnipeg where I learned a valuable lesson from then head coach Doug Berry about the divisions of labour on a team. During an offence versus defence exercise, an offensive lineman refused to release my jersey as he was falling, and inadvertently pulled me into the legs of the starting quarterback. I was so frustrated this blatant holding had almost ended in the destruction of someone's cruciate ligaments, I told the offensive line coach, "you better teach your players when to let go before you lose your QB," to which coach Berry corrected me by saying, "before we lose our QB." It may seem obvious to everyone else you are on the same team, but sometimes you need to hear it put into perspective to sink in.
In my experience as a player representative for eight years the players always voluntarily shared the burden and consequences when economic conditions were not favourable in the CFL. The fact these conditions have now been somewhat reversed, and the league appears to be hoping to cash in off a failure of solidarity from their bargaining partners, demonstrates they do not understand the big picture.
No one, not the operation or game-day staffs, the millions of fans across the country, and most certainly not the brand of the league gains anything with a strike. Yet when one entity clearly does not respect the resolve of their business counterpart in a negotiation, that partner has no choice but to stand up and be counted.
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.