CFL and union meet in Toronto with CBA deadline looming

Representatives from the Canadian Football League and the CFL Players’ Association will meet at a Toronto airport hotel on Wednesday morning, with less than 100 hours before the deadline to sign a new collective agreement.

Putting the deal to bed a few days before the existing CBA expires at midnight Saturday would avoid some of the drama that comes with uncertainty over the opening of training camps on Sunday and the start of the season on time. .

To be clear, we’ve been down this road before.

The issues may be different this time around – players are looking for a better guarantee of future income, the league is looking for roster flexibility and the introduction of “naturalized” Canadians, and both sides are looking for ways to slow the turnover of the league. roster – but the tone of disenchantment coming from the players’ side is not unique to this stage of the negotiations.

The union has told its members to stay in their off-season homes until it sees what the league brings to the table on Wednesday. Many players, however, are already in their cities or on their way.

Teams have promised players that they will be housed and fed throughout the training camp period whether or not there is a strike.

The CFLPA has told veteran quarterbacks not to attend three-day rookie camps, which begin Wednesday, as they normally do.

After not meeting formally since last Thursday, the league told players it would arrive on Wednesday with a new proposal in hand.

How the players react to the new proposition will determine whether there is a bumpy or smooth ride to the finish line.

But history tells us it will.

Work stoppages in sport have become rare because the issues that most often animated them in the past have been largely addressed. Battles over salary caps and more liberal free agency interrupted seasons and dominated headlines from the 1980s to the early 2000s.

There’s been a salary cap in the CFL since the late 1980s, and the league has as liberal a form of free agency as you’ll find in professional sports.

Work stoppages have been rare in the CFL, and in professional football in general.

The CFL’s only work stoppage was a 12-day strike during training camp in 1974 when the union fought for the establishment of a minimum wage, set at $11,000.

There hasn’t been a significant work stoppage in football since the 1987 NFL strike, when players crossed the picket lines to return to work alongside substitutes.

This experience demonstrated the difficulty of maintaining union will in a sport where players have short careers and competition for jobs is endless, with contracts rarely guaranteed.

The CFL negotiating team has historically taken advantage of this dynamic, understanding that it’s easier to keep a group of nines than a group of 500s. That’s why they’re usually on the winning side when it comes down to it. and do.

In the CFL, where players don’t have the individual wealth of players in major professional sports, and where some are here for experience more than pay, keeping everyone together might be even more difficult.

There are reasons to be optimistic. These two negotiating teams are not only experienced, but experienced with each other, having negotiated during the pandemic when circumstances changed the business of the sport.

CFL teams, fans and players have waited a very long time to get back to normal – to full seasons and full stands and the restoration of business.

It is certainly not in either party’s interest to have hundreds of football players housed and paid for by the teams while the league and the union walk away with the camp. pending workout.

If that happens, it will be the first clash of the 2022 CFL season.

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