CFL, CFLPA at ‘impasse’ in CBA negotiations

CFL commissioner Mark Cohon. (John Woods/CP)

Two months before the collective bargaining agreement expires between the CFL and its players, there still remains no deal. In fact, relations are so sour between the two sides they’re not even meeting.

The breakdown in talks centres on the distribution of league revenues. The players union is in search of a 56 percent share of the overall pot, while multiple sources say the CFL will not budge on re-implementing revenue sharing into the collective bargaining agreement.

“Until we’re going to negotiate revenue sharing, there is no sense in meeting,” said a players’ association source. “The league is not even willing to negotiate a model of revenue sharing.”

The CBA between the league and its players expires in late May, on the eve of 2014 training camps opening league-wide, at a time where the financial health of the Canadian Football League may be at its best in history.

Talks only began between the CFL and the players association last week, but the second day of the scheduled negotiations (on March and 7) was called off. The sides have also cancelled meetings, originally set for March 20 and 21 in Toronto, Sportsnet has learned.

“We’re at an impasse,” said a player involved in negotiations.

Despite numerous inquiries by Sportsnet to the league office, neither CFL commissioner Mark Cohon, nor his right hand man, league president Michael Copeland, would comment for the story. Instead, through a statement, a CFL spokesman said: “We remain focused on reaching an agreement that is fair and reasonable for our teams and our players, but we will not negotiate in the media.”

Hockey related revenues are split evenly between players and owners in the NHL, 50-50. In the NBA, players receive 51.15% of basketball related income.

“We get the feeling the league and owners believe we’re weak. They’re sorely mistaken,” said a CFL player close to the negotiations. “This is the time guys will take a stand. We’ve never been in this position before with new stadiums, a new team and a new, rich TV deal. Until they’re willing to negotiate a model of revenue sharing, we’re not backing down.”

Revenue sharing in the CFL was eliminated in the last CBA, which the players union says it agreed to “for the betterment of the league, because of where we were economically.”

This time around, “we’re in a very different place,” said a union rep.

The financial landscape has certainly changed.

A new television deal, which begins in 2014 and expires in 2018, is believed to be worth approximately $40 million, more than double from the previous arrangement. New stadiums have been built, or are being constructed in nearly every market. An expansion franchise in Ottawa will open its doors for business this summer.

All creating a healthier, and more economically stable league, the commissioner has often stated. And after announcing the new TV partnership, Cohon said “it’s a strong foundation to build on.”

But not, it appears, when it comes to compensating players.

In advance of the March 6 and 7 meetings in Calgary, each side was to send a proposal to the other by March 3, to prepare for the visit. The players' association submitted a 24-page document that day. The league countered, two days late, sharing a two-page offering that had no monetary breakdown in it.

A source close to the negotiations said the league has proposed an eight-year collective bargaining agreement – which would exceed the length of the new television deal (five years, plus a network option for the sixth) – a primary revenue source in CFL business.

“That eight-year proposal is ridiculous,” said a team union rep. “The rest of their proposal – All the (league) did was follow the same model as before, with some minor salary cap increases of $100,000 a year.”

The length of the current collective bargaining agreement, signed in 2010, was four years.

Left in the dark during this process are many CFL coaches and general managers. Five different coaches and front office types contacted this week told Sportsnet that they have not been kept in the loop on what has gone on with negotiations.

“Why are they even starting to talk in March? Why not earlier?” one general manager asked aloud.

Another football executive found it “absurd” that at this stage of the league’s calendar, the teams are still unaware of what the 2014 season’s salary cap will be.

Beyond revenue sharing, sources with the union, and the league, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fears of repercussions, outlined other changes the CFL has presented.

Among them:

1) Longer work hours. The CFL wants to change the four-and-a-half hour work day rule for players into allotted hours per week. The exact number would be based on how many days there are between games. The union counters this proposal, stating that the 4 ½-hour day is a myth, because it does not include treatment for injuries or ailments, nor workouts (upwards of three hours a day). A blanket weekly schedule “leaves way too much open for manipulation for coaches,” said one player. “They want us to increase our work hours, but not really increase our pay.

2) Expanded practice rosters and injured lists. While presently, practice rosters are expanded after NFL cuts in September, the league wants more players at the $600/week stipend, which would provide more competition to usurp more expensive veterans.

3) Installation of two-way contracts. Similar to the NHL, owners want the luxury to move players on and off the active roster (where they’d receive full salary) to the practice roster (where they earn wages hovering around the poverty line) without releasing the player, as the system is presently structured. The format, as it is put together now, allows a player the opportunity to seek employment on another team’s active roster first – to try and make actual dollars – before having to sign onto the PR.

The CFLPA has kept its membership aware of the ongoing process through a number of conference calls. One player who has taken part said the union and league are “polar opposites right now.”