August 12, 2020

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Opinion

CFL should pull plug on season

Plan for ' 21 and beyond

Randy Ambrosie, CFL commissioner, says the league continues to assess whether it can play a shortened season. (Andrew Vaughan / The Canadian Press files)

Randy Ambrosie, CFL commissioner, says the league continues to assess whether it can play a shortened season. (Andrew Vaughan / The Canadian Press files)

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie submitted a lengthy open letter on Thursday, providing, among other things, his idea of an update on the 2020 season. The biggest problem, among other issues, is the 861-word statement is two months late.

But given how little transparency there has been and how often Ambrosie and the CFL have dragged their feet in delivering public updates on when/if a coronavirus-shortened season will be played, the big-on-words-but-lack-of-substance note he released seemed all too familiar. And, there is still no clarity on when a decision will be made as to whether we’ll see three-down football this year.

What’s more, the letter reeks of a desperate response by Ambrosie to what’s been a particularly tough week for him — one filled with negative publicity fuelled by media, fans, players and even CFL coaches, who, despite no games being played yet, have started to, unbelievably, complain while still collecting a paycheque for doing nothing.

What’s more, it all just feels like another attempt to claim "we’re all in this together," only to once again try to pull the wool over our collective eyes.

So, where to begin?

Let’s rip the bandage off right now. While Ambrosie claims the CFL "continues to assess whether we can still play a shortened season in 2020 against two criteria: whether we can do so safely, and whether it is financially viable," what he really means is the league is waiting on a miracle.

Mostly, that health restrictions loosen so significantly that tens of thousands of fans are now able to attend games.

How many times do we need to read that the CFL is a gate-driven league — and even then it still collectively lost $20 million in 2019 — before the CFL just outright says there will be no games without butts in the seats? Ambrosie has used words such as "difficult" and "challenging" when asked about the prospect of playing without fans when he should be using "impossible."

The CFL is a gate-driven league and needs fans in the stands. (Liam Richards / The Canadian Press files)

The CFL is a gate-driven league and needs fans in the stands. (Liam Richards / The Canadian Press files)

The reality is that without a massive influx of public money — one other notable miracle the league is waiting on — there is absolutely no way, under their current business structure, to play a shortened season without fans and not lose an astronomical amount of money. And that number only grows when you consider the significant costs associated with proper testing of players and league employees, whether that’s done in a hub city or under normal circumstances.

It’s here where I should say I’m not against the CFL holding out on making a final decision, and I don’t blame them for having optimism. But setting a reasonable deadline shouldn’t be that hard, given the CFL has little to no wiggle room from its September start date.

What’s most troubling, though, is Ambrosie’s claim again that all is rosy with the players. As if no one has been paying attention to recent developments.

Earlier this week, I wrote about the players’ frustration in being completely boxed out of any real return-to-play plan. Prior to that, CFLPA executive director Brian Ramsay had taken to social media to publicly denounce Ambrosie’s claim that there were ongoing meetings between the two sides.

Then, shortly after the release of the open letter, Montreal Alouettes defensive end Adrian Tracy wrote a pointed Twitter message directed at Ambrosie and the CFL, saying, "you know this is a BOLD face lie. We as a @CLFPA had to approach the government under our own volition after you, @RandyAmbrosie, fumbled the ask. When told by the government to include us in the future proposal, the @CFL went ghost."

The recent display of disdain between the two sides would also suggest the 2020 season is in severe danger.

But there is one bit of good news. According to multiple reports, the CFL’s Player Relations Committee has invited the CFLPA to begin formal talks in developing an altered CBA for the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

Another curious part of Ambrosie’s message was that there is "ongoing work with the CFLPA asking the federal government to change the criteria for its wage subsidy program so that all players are fully eligible."

The wage subsidy program was put in place to incentivize companies to keep employees working. It covers up to 75 per cent of an employee’s wage, to a maximum of $847 per week.

Ambrosie says there is ongoing work with the CFLPA asking the federal government to change the criteria for its wage subsidy program so that all players are fully eligible. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

CP

Ambrosie says there is ongoing work with the CFLPA asking the federal government to change the criteria for its wage subsidy program so that all players are fully eligible. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

In order to qualify for the program, among other things, a company needs to prove it has lost a minimum of 30 per cent of its revenue owing to COVID-19, which the CFL certainly has. All teams have taken advantage of it, though it currently only applies to full-time staff and not contract workers, such as players.

What’s confusing is the program was just recently extended an additional 12 weeks, to Aug. 29. With a season not expected to begin until September, what exactly is the CFL and CFLPA asking for?

It’s impossible to know the details without the CFL divulging them. In an attempt to do just that, I asked the CFL what exactly they’re asking for and received this response: "We are asking for changes to make the players fully eligible for the wage subsidy, which is a subsidy of 75 per cent of the eligible remuneration paid by an eligible entity (eligible employer) to each employee — to a maximum of $847 per week."

For those paying attention, that’s simply the definition of the program. There are only two reasonable scenarios to take away from this.

The first is the CFL is hoping the program is extended into the fall, and in the event there’s a shortened season it would help the league’s bottom line if players were then included.

The second, more troubling scenario, is that the CFL is hoping to circumvent the program and pay players over the summer without playing games. Given there are players — mostly Canadians — who have qualified for CERB or employment insurance, which is eligible to any player with the required 600 hours of work in 2019, this looks to be likely aimed at American players who haven’t qualified for either.

While I appreciate the role these players play in the success of the CFL, it’s a tough sell for a country to financially support migrant workers, whatever the industry might be. When there are people who are losing businesses and Canada is going into massive debt, is it too much to ask these guys to lean on their own government for financial aid?

Or, here’s another idea: teams get off their wallets, find out who isn’t eligible for the other programs and haven’t received a lucrative off-season bonus and then help them out. This is especially for those deep-pocket owners who seem to always claim they love their players. Now’s the time to prove it.

My biggest takeaway from Thursday, however, is the CFL seems more focused on the years ahead than they are playing this season — and rightfully so. With time running out and more problems than solutions, that’s exactly what the league should do — pull the plug on 2020 and start getting to work on 2021 and beyond.

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

Read full biography

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History

Updated on Friday, June 19, 2020 at 2:26 PM CDT: Removes word is from end of sentence

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