Back last autumn, long before the collective bargaining process for the Canadian Football League and its players began, it wasnt hard to find those around the game who figured the leagues new salary cap would come in at about $5 million. Which is exactly where it landed Saturday night, with the players and league reaching a tentative agreement which - pending ratification - will end the threat of a work stoppage for the next five seasons. The $5 million figure is an increase of $600,000 per team over one year ago which means, when combined with ratification bonuses just for signing the deal, player compensation will grow to roughly $5.3 million per team this upcoming season. Historically speaking, a payroll jump of nearly $1 million per team from one season to the next is unheard of in the CFL. So why are so many players apparently unhappy with the deal? Largely because the CFL Players Association had been trying to build solidarity by pointing to the leagues new TV contract and several new stadium, while pleading its case first for a share of revenues and then for a salary cap of $6.8 million. But as time passed, the CFLPA executive sensed the that the $5 million salary cap was a deal-breaker for the league, an amount the players were likely going to have to accept either now, or in July or sometime after that. The players had every right to expect more. But any student of professional football labour knows that owners hold more of the cards in this sport than any other. Remember that three years ago, with all signs pointing to record revenues and popularity, the NFL locked out its players and rolled back their percentage of the take. All for the same reason the CFLs owners were able to gain the upper hand with their players: because they could and this is business. The unique element of the CFLs business case is that it can reasonably say it needed to make the league more economically stable. The bad old days in the CFL arent really all that long ago (its been eight years since a CFL team folded, 11 since two others were in bankruptcy) so the league based its position on prioritizing the medium to long term future of the league. There are non-monetary wins for the players in this deal, in such things as reduced hitting time in practice time, plus the fact that veteran contracts will no longer tie players to their teams for an extra year at the clubs option. But as for how this will affect the CFL game as a whole, theres not a whole lot in this agreement thats going to change the product as we know it. The league hopes the new agreement will provide the financial footing for it and its teams to invest in all areas of its business, essentially play catch-up on some of the things it wasnt able to do while it was trying to keep its head above water. With three teams having public ownership and six other franchises owned by people of considerable wealth unrelated to the business of football, the owners getting their way in this deal isnt about fat-cats trying to line their pockets. Its really about creating a business model that can drive franchise values up and make CFL franchises desirable to own in a way they havent been for decades. Which is the very best insurance the league can have and should mean the end of fire sales and circumstances where owners are tempted to throw the keys on the table and walk away. If the league operates soundly from here on, there will be better paydays in a stronger CFL down the road. Thats little consolation for this group of players, most of whom wont be around to share in the spoils that may come. But for a league that has spent much of the past 30 years trying to stay a few steps ahead of The Grim Reaper, theres no shame in striking a deal that builds a solid financial foundation to the future. Jonathan Lucroy Jersey
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