TORONTO — Brian Ramsay looked to set the record straight Friday.
The CFL and CFL Players’ Association have halted discussions on potential contingency plans for the 2020 campaign due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The league has already postponed the start of training camps — which were to open next month — and won’t begin its regular season, which was scheduled to open June 11, until July at the earliest.
Ramsay, the CFLPA’s executive director, said the CFL can’t unilaterally decide on any contingency plan as per the current collective bargaining agreement. Any changes, he added, would require agreement from both sides.
“I think there’s nothing the players, fans and everyone involved with this league wants more (than a 2020 season),” Ramsay said. “There are many things to discuss in the collective agreement to get there because of the situation we’ve been placed in with the pandemic.
“That’s why the interest of the players is ‘Let’s have these discussions now so if and when there’s an opportunity to get back playing, then we’re as prepared as possible from the players’ and league’s perspective.”
At the heart of the impasse is interpretation of paragraph 16 of a standard CFL player’s contract. It essentially states both sides agree that if the league operation is suspended at any point, all contracts become null and void making players free agents.
So the question remains, could that happen if the ‘20 season was cancelled due to the novel coronavirus outbreak? Not surprisingly, the CFL believes the clause refers to the league folding and ceasing operations, not cancelling a campaign.
But Ramsay said the CFLPA brought the matter up as one of many that needed discussing as part of any contingency plan and not to draw a line in the sand. The CBA deals with an 18-game schedule and everything going as usual but with the current situation being anything but, many elements of the deal must now be re-examined and re-addressed.
“We identified this as an issue weeks ago, one of many we’re going to need to work through to find solutions to the problems this pandemic has created,” Ramsay said. “We’re looking at it simply as the ability of our players to have an opportunity.
“Our players are football players and if there’s not employment or an ability for them to earn an income in this sector of the industry, then we don’t believe players should be hindered from earning an income if there’s one available. The narrative we’ve taken a hard-line position on this is completely false, we brought this up to find a solution.”
A CFL spokesman said Friday the league has no comment on the impasse.
“Our global players, because of travel bans, can’t leave their home country but might have an opportunity with a professional league that’s part of the CFL 2.0 network,” Ramsay said. “It might also be for one of our American players who’s in the U.S. and can’t come up to Canada but could have an opportunity to earn an income (in NFL).
“We’re not looking to duplicate free agency … we identified this as an issue just so we could identify possible solutions to it.”
This isn’t the first time the CFL and its players have been at odds. Last year, contract talks between the two sides were sometimes contentious before a new three-year collective bargaining agreement was reached.
The same scenario existed during CBA talks in 2014 before a five-year agreement was ultimately hammered out.
Ramsay said while a timetable for the resumption of meetings hasn’t been reached, the CFLPA is ready to start talking again.
“We’re prepared at any time as always,” he said. “This hasn’t stopped us from working and preparing to best assist and prepare our players while getting ready internally to try and find mutually beneficial solutions.
“That way, when we do talk we’re in a position that we can play football if there’s an opportunity in 2020. We’re in this together, we all are. It needs to reflect the process and it’s not at all.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 24, 2020.