(The Canadian Press)

CFL, CFL Players’ Association extend CBA amendment talks deadline

An abbreviated ‘20 season would call for each CFL team to play six regular-season games

The CFL and CFL Players’ Association will continue discussing amendments to their collective bargaining agreement that could allow for a shortened 2020 season.

Prior to the start of negotiations last month, the CFL imposed Friday as the deadline for CBA amendments, along with an extension of the deal past its 2021 expiry. It also wanted health-and-safety protocols and federal funding in place by Friday.

But the CFLPA told its members in a memo Friday the CFL has extended the deadline to next week as it awaits word on government assistance.

The CFL would also need to reach an agreement with broadcast partner TSN.

“We await a decision early next week from the federal government when we can work to finalize certainty of compensation for players who are committed to playing in the 2020 season,” the union wrote.

The extension of CBA talks was hardly surprising. Prior to the start of Friday’s session, the CFLPA issued a memo to its membership saying the two sides continue to discuss health-and-safety matters but hadn’t engaged in “meaningful discussions around pay.”

Two sources said any CBA amendments would be for staging an abbreviated ‘20 season and extending the deal past 2021. The CFL and its players must both sign off on any changes to the CBA for a 2020 season to be played.

The sources were granted anonymity as neither the CFL nor the CFLPA have commented publicly about the amendment talks.

Earlier this month, the CFL submitted a revised financial request to Ottawa for roughly $42.5 million in aid. In April, the league asked the federal government for up to $150 million in assistance in the event of a cancelled 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CFLPA, in its memo, stated, ” … 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 (Friday).”

Trouble is, any government support would likely come after the CFL and CFLPA reached their agreement. That’s because the amended CBA would provide definite cost certainty as a requirement for the aid.

The CFL’s revised request will also need co-operation from the six provinces where its franchises are located. That’s because Ottawa is dealing with the league’s offer via the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), which is a federal agency but also a crown corporation.

Subsequently, the federal government can’t mandate financial assistance for the CFL.

The BDC is essentially a bank with lending criteria and the CFL is unlikely to qualify given its financial state. To secure financial assistance, the league would likely require the Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. governments to serve as guarantors on any funding provided.

That could be an issue as Ontario sports minister Lisa MacLeod has stated the province has no CFL-specific money and there are many other sectors also requiring government help.

Commissioner Randy Ambrosie has stated the earliest the ‘20 season would begin is September. But he’s also said a cancelled campaign remains a possibility.

If there is indeed a season, it will be staged in Winnipeg. On Tuesday, the league named the Manitoba capital its hub city, pending approval from provincial and federal public health officials.

Under the Manitoba government plan, CFL players and coaches would be in a bubble consisting of hotels, practice fields and a stadium. Players would have to isolate at home for 14 days prior to departing for Winnipeg, be tested for the novel coronavirus upon their arrival then go into quarantine for another seven days.

The general public won’t be allowed into CFL-dedicated hotels or IG Field. The Manitoba government says violations will “result in strict penalties, which could include players being sent home for the remainder of the season.”

An abbreviated ‘20 season would call for each CFL team to play six regular-season games. The expectation is the league will adopt a one-division format, with eight of nine teams qualifying for the playoffs.

The Grey Cup game also would be played at IG Field.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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