Contract talks between CFL, players at impasse

The Canadian Football League’s self-imposed deadline for a settlement came and went Friday, with little to show from either the league or its players.

The CFL set a target of July 24, which was a day later than originally scheduled, to reach a new collective bargaining agreement with the CFL’s Player’s Association for a shortened 2020 season, as well as a new deal for next year, too. The goal was also to secure a significant amount of financial assistance from the Canadian government, something league officials have been saying for weeks was imperative to playing this year.

It wasn’t until late Friday afternoon that the CFLPA issued the first of two statements to their membership. In the second statement, after hours of negotiations with the league, it said the CFL had extended the deadline to sometime next week.

The Free Press obtained a copy. In it, the CFLPA said the reason for the delay was because the CFL was awaiting “decisions from the health authorities and the federal government regarding funding and confirmation of health protocols.”

“We are continuing to engage in discussions with the league on the outstanding issues of the health and safety of players, quality of life in the bubble, medical coverage, surgeries, game schedules and others,” the memo went on to say.

Winnipeg Football Club president and CEO Wade Miller said in an interview with the Free Press earlier this week that the July 24 deadline “was an extremely important date” because the CFL doesn’t have a lot of time to pull off a shortened season.

“There’s a lot that goes into making this happen so we’re all working towards that and we’ll find a way to get there,” Miller said.

Winnipeg was named the CFL’s hub city on Tuesday for a potential 2020 campaign. The idea of a hub city is to have all the estimated 800 players, coaches and staff living in one “bubble,” where they wouldn’t be in contact with the outside community.

The plan still requires approval from Manitoba Health.

On Friday, the provincial government, which pledged on Monday $2.5 million to Winnipeg playing league hosts this season, announced the formation of a Hub City committee. The committee includes representation from various industries, including medical and business professionals.

The committee will be tasked with ensuring the economic return on the province’s investment; building and fostering community engagement; and providing community oversight and support to the CFL and the WFC to facilitate the effective delivery of the season. Brock Bulbuck, the executive chairman of Boyd Group Services, will be board chair.

If a season were played this year it would most likely include a six-game regular season and eight-team playoff format. The projected start date for Week 1 is set for mid-September.

But before a season can even be considered, a number of things must happen.

A new CBA still must be reached. According to sources, the CFL has started to back off on a new deal for 2021 and instead are focused solely on 2020. Of the biggest issues, player health and safety and compensation are the two biggest roadblocks to reaching an agreement.

Any new CBA for this year would require a return-to-play plan, which outlines the various safety issues owning to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to league sources, there is a disconnect over who should have to monitor players prior to their arrival to Winnipeg.

As part of the hub city plan, players are expected to quarantine for 14 days and receive a negative test before travelling. That request would be a significant undertaking to properly execute, given the league’s players are spread out across the world, including hundreds from the U.S. where the coronavirus has spiralled out control in some states.

The CFLPA reached out to its membership Friday morning, stating, in part, that “although we have made significant progress we have yet to engage in meaningful discussions around pay. We will continue to engage them on this but until the federal government makes a decision on financial support for the league, it is unlikely we will be able to finalize an agreement today.”

The CFL put forth a proposal to the federal government for $42.5 million. The league had originally asked, in April, for as much as $150 million in financial aid in the event the 2020 season was wiped out. In the league’s most recent request, it says the money would be used to cover player salaries and football operation costs to playing in a hub city.

In a House of Commons meeting on Wednesday, Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault shot down the prospect of Sport Canada providing funding to for-profit independent leagues. However, he stopped short of completely ruling out government funding for the CFL, saying afterwards they were still in discussions with the league.

Another possible funding option would be in the form of a low-interest loan from the Business Development Bank of Canada. The BDC is a federal agency but also a Crown corporation, meaning the feds couldn’t approve CFL receiving financial assistance from the BDC.

There are two issues with getting a loan. First, because the CFL isn’t on strong financial footing, it would need the Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. governments serve as guarantors on any funding provided. Further, sources tell the Free Press that not every one of the CFL’s nine teams is on board with a loan.

The Free Press reached out to the CFL on Thursday about the proposed deadline and whether the league planned to release a statement. “Bargaining continues, and when and if we have significant news to share, we will share it.”

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.

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