New deal offers Canadian Football League players a seat at the table

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The list of collective bargaining points includes the paradigm, the essential and the groundbreaking.

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Pack ’em up, there’s about 20 and there’s no doubt the Canadian Football League Players Association occupies a markedly different space than it did before a four-day strike that provoked a new contract with the league.

First of all, the PA now has a seat on the board of directors of CFL Ventures. As the CFL’s business grows and God knows it just has to happen or there is no future for either party involved, the newly formed commercial arm of the league will hold the keys and the CFLPA Board Representative will be able to Make decisions input in real time. Although a seat doesn’t make it a full business partner, the PA will literally stand in the room, and that’s a game-changing development.

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But the real kicker was the league’s U-turn on revenue share. As Wednesday’s marathon negotiation session began, with the league still reluctant to include Gray Cup earnings in the formula, players were adamant the issue loomed as a deal-breaker. Sources suggest that the PA was indeed preparing to fly its members home at the weekend, such was its resolve on the financial issue.

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The league eventually changed stance to include Gray Cup revenue and auditing rights for the PA, overturning the final pillar on which the players’ strike was founded. The baseline of the formula is set on all earnings from 2022 onwards, a year when the league is still recovering from a pandemic and is just figuring out the benefits of its partnership with Genius Sports, the company that promises to unlock the earning potential from betting and other digital media to explore and data opportunities. The revenue share agreement offers players up to a 30% share of revenue growth above this threshold, added to the salary cap. The cap itself is said to raise at least $100,000 per season, not counting potential growth.

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The other crucial points – the Canadian relationship, the medical coverage, the term and the expiry date – had all been worked out to the satisfaction of both sides, and a memorandum of agreement was in place.

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The preliminary deal has yet to be ratified by the CFL Board of Directors and the CFLPA membership. That seems like a good bet because we can only assume that the CFL’s negotiators had the blessing of all nine franchises to bid as much as they did to secure a deal, end the strike and ensure that a full 18-game season will be played for the first time since 2019. And there is absolutely no chance that players will reject this package once presented to them by the CFLPA leadership at meetings at all nine training camps. Here are some of the other new developments in the CBA:

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* Long-term player medical coverage will be increased from three years to four years in 2022 and five years in 2023 and for the remainder of the agreement.

* The CFLPA may reopen the CBA after five years once the TSN broadcast contract expires. The term ends 30 days before the start of the training camp, not the evening before the camp.

* The ratio changes are complex, but the deal keeps seven Canadian starters and 21 Canadians on the list. Three of the four designated imports may step in for a starting Canadian, but only up to a maximum of 49% of game time to receive Canadian starters’ game time bonuses and only if the DIs meet the requirements for a nationalized American. For example, the league’s teams are given the flexibility to use a DI like a kick returner in a wide receiver role.

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* A veteran who has expired the term of his first contract and re-signs with the same club may be guaranteed up to 50% of his base salary in the last year of his next contract, be it a two, three or four year contract.

* Addressed the financial hardship of Canadian veterans returning to the CFL from the NFL. One year of service in the South counts as one year on the grid. When you’re in the NFL for three years, you come to the CFL as a free agent and can negotiate a deal as such. If you spend two years in the South, you live in rookie cap conditions for a season. The change was inspired by TJ Jones’ situation. He and the Toronto Argonauts negotiated a salary well above the rookie cap, but it was scrapped.

* Global players receive a raise to the league minimum, which is $65,000 this year, $70,000 next year, increasing to $75,000 over the contract term.

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* The grievance and arbitration system has been changed to allow the CFLPA to speak directly to team GMs and/or Presidents to try to resolve issues rather than having to go through the league office first. Arbitrators have also been added to the list.

* The league and CFLPA also agreed on the terms of a COVID travel policy, return of the NFL window, player housing benefit tied to average national rents, mental health and addiction programs, a code of conduct for players and fans, administrative Language related to work permits and national certification of all equipment and medical staff interacting with players.

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