June 17, 2019

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CFL players to report for medical testing Saturday

CFLPA president expects deal to be ratified soon

CFL Players Association president Jeff Keeping, left, expects a ratification vote to be held Sunday. 
GRAHAM HUGHES / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

CFL Players Association president Jeff Keeping, left, expects a ratification vote to be held Sunday. GRAHAM HUGHES / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Though the Canadian Football League’s new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) will not be ratified in time for the official start of training camp, players are being told to report anyway.

Jeff Keeping, president of the CFL Players’ Association (CFLPA), confirmed in an interview with the Free Press on Thursday that players will report for medical testing today and will be on the field Sunday for the first day of formal workouts.

“Given our players are from all over Canada and the U.S. — and now, with CFL 2.0, all over the world — it was important for us to centralize and be able to have access to all our guys in a productive way,” Keeping said.

“In order to do that, we have to bring them all into training camp and from there, we’ll be able to walk them through the agreement, show them how we reached an agreement and offer them an opportunity to ask any questions.”

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Though the Canadian Football League’s new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) will not be ratified in time for the official start of training camp, players are being told to report anyway.

Jeff Keeping, president of the CFL Players’ Association (CFLPA), confirmed in an interview with the Free Press on Thursday that players will report for medical testing today and will be on the field Sunday for the first day of formal workouts.

"Given our players are from all over Canada and the U.S. — and now, with CFL 2.0, all over the world — it was important for us to centralize and be able to have access to all our guys in a productive way," Keeping said.

"In order to do that, we have to bring them all into training camp and from there, we’ll be able to walk them through the agreement, show them how we reached an agreement and offer them an opportunity to ask any questions."

Keeping said he didn’t have an exact timeline for when players were expected to issue a deciding vote, but predicted it would be sometime either late Sunday or early next week.

The CFLPA still needs to fine-tune some of the logistics, including making sure representation from the union’s bargaining committee is in every city to discuss the new CBA.

Player reps from each team will also be part of presenting the new agreement and aiding in any subsequent questions.

The deal still needs to be approved by both sides, though the CFL has already said it plans to move forward under the new conditions. Keeping didn’t want to speak on behalf of his membership, nor was he willing to discuss any specifics about the CBA until players were fully up to speed, but he did offer a glowing endorsement.

"We believe this agreement is a significant improvement over the current one. We fought hard to fix some of the flaws and concerns in the previous CBA and then improve on some of the existing terms," Keeping said.

"As this process is really just unfolding, there are a lot of players that have good and valid questions about this agreement and there are rumours out there of what’s contained in it that will be straightened out this weekend, when we’re able to get in front of the players. They’re going to have that opportunity to ask questions and we believe that when we go over our priorities, as have been laid out by the players, you’re going to see the valuable and significant long-term gains."

It was no secret what the CFLPA was looking for, including two major priorities: long-term health and safety and a meaningful partnership with the CFL. Though Keeping wouldn’t confirm some of the reports about those issues, he does believe the CFLPA’s bargaining team achieved their mandate.

Just the fact that the two sides were able to reach a deal might be viewed by some as a victory, especially following weeks of contentious negotiations and scare tactics from both sides. But Keeping was quick to dismiss any lingering bad blood between the league and its players, noting negotiations shouldn’t — and won’t — be taken personally.

"We knew negotiations were going to be challenging and part of the process was having respect for both side’s position," he said.

"We’re all football fans, so everyone wants to talk about winning or losing. But bargaining, really, is not a contest of who will win and who will lose. Our bargaining was focused on earning gains and that’s where we feel like we landed and that’s why we have unanimous support for the bargaining committee."

While many reports outlining details of the new CBA have surfaced since Wednesday’s announcement, the Free Press was able to confirm a number of other components, including clearing up some misinformation.

It was reported the three-year deal would ensure players health coverage for three years from the date of injury — up from the current one-year coverage— but the new agreement will begin with two years of coverage in 2019, before moving to three years for the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

The new deal will also increase the CFLPA’s representation on both the health and safety and rules committees, giving players an additional vote when making important changes to the league.

The number of two-a-day practices will also drop from 10 last season to five in 2019, with that number decreasing to three for the remainder of the agreement.

Another important aspect of the new CBA is keeping the Canadian ratio at seven starters. There had been talk of lowering that number — while keeping the mandatory 21 Canadian players on each roster in place — but that has been shelved.

There will, however, be spots allotted to "global" players — a key part of CFL 2.0, a league initiative aimed at growing the game outside of Canada and the U.S. — as early as this season. In 2019, there will be one "global" player on each roster and two in 2020.

A "global" player is defined as essentially any player who doesn’t hold a Canadian or American passport, including those selected in the league’s recent Mexican and European drafts.

To ensure the league isn’t just gifting a spot at the expense of another, likely better, player, the game-day rosters are being expanded to 45 players in 2019 and 46 players in 2020.

"It’s been a long process, but it’s about insisting that the employer and the league respects our demands and we feel like they were reasoned and the tentative agreement reflects that," Keeping said.

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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