Dave Naylor: With CBA put to bed, it’s finally time for CFL football

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And so the deal got done.

After one of the most eventful days for the Canadian Football League in a while, the league has a new collective bargaining agreement and the 2022 CFL season is on.

In what was the boardroom equivalent of a two-minute offense, the CFL and its players’ association on Thursday reached a tentative agreement on a new CBA for the second time in eight days. Only this time, instead of the agreement taking days to be put to a vote by the players, the matter was approved in a matter of hours.

The CFL Players’ Association ratified the seven-year tentative agreement with the league Thursday night, just two days after CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie presented players with his “final offer.”

All it took was some money and a little more guaranteed playtime for Canadian players to put the nastiest CFL labor fight in decades into the history books.

Its been long recognized that the CFLPA has a very difficult job on its hands, given that its players work in a league that loses money and the brevity of football careers can make seeing the bigger cause hard to see for many. Throw in the fact that the interests of Canadian and American players don’t always line up and you understand why players have often had to take what’s been offered, in many instances.

But despite a chaotic process that on Monday saw the membership vote down a tentative agreement that had been recommended by the players, the union managed to successfully go where none had gone in 38 years, and save the season to boot.

In the end, pushing the league to the brink gave the players a little more immediate money in the form of a ratification bonus. And a little more guaranteed playtime for its Canadians than what had been on the table for the past 12 days.

The CFL offered a $1-million ratification bonus this week, which it upped to $1.25 million on Thursday. For some of the roughly 500 players voting, that translates into $2,500 apiece, which was probably enough to sway many without deep conviction one way or the other.

On the ultra-sensitive matter of the CFL’s ratio for Canadian players, the sides came up with what could be called the ultimate compromise.

Up until now, every CFL team has been required to start at least seven Canadians, a line that’s been fiercely guarded by the players’ association over the years.

The league had proposed moving that to six, which is where the union dug in its heels.

The compromise came in the players agreeing that up to two of the starting Canadians per team can be replaced by veteran Americans for up to 49 per cent of their snaps. That number grows to three players by 2024, if the league wishes.

Besides being difficult to process, never mind tabulate, it’s as if the two sides dissected the ratio into smaller pieces when they couldn’t agree to shrink it.

The end result will be less guaranteed playing time for Canadian players, which isn’t going to sit well with many. But the league was determined to let the coaches have more control over who plays and when, and to a small degree that has been achieved.

The union can save face by saying it preserved the seven Canadian starting roles, albeit in a reduced form.

Otherwise, this settlement shifts a number of things in the direction of the players, some of which they had never been able to achieve before. Those include the right to negotiate partial guarantees when a player re-signs with his current team, a formula for revenue sharing, extended post-career health benefits and increases to both the minimum salary and the salary cap.

These were modest gains by the standards of major professional sports. But in comparison to the last several agreements they qualify as improvements, which is important because the league treating its players fairly is an important ingredient in a successful business model for any league.

It’s been three years and a very long and winding road since the CFL has had anything that felt like normalcy.

And now, with the CBA put to bed and following an off-season of self-examination unlike any other, it’s finally time for football.

Four preseason games are scheduled for Friday and Saturday, starting with the Ottawa Redblacks hosting the Toronto Argonauts at 7:30pm et/4:30pm pt Friday on TSN.

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