CFLPA is closer to the CFL’s proposed cap, but divides remain, and a strike may be next

The CFL and the CFLPA haven't had any further negotiating sessions since collective bargaining talks broke down last week, but the players' association did come out with a new proposal Tuesday (PDF) that narrows the cap ceiling divide for 2014 to just $200,000 ($5.2 million under the union's proposal, $5 million under the league's). At first, that might be seen as a sign that a deal can be struck; across nine teams, that's only a $1.8 million difference even if everyone spent to the cap. The CFL shot down the CFLPA's proposal, though, and has refused to move further from the "best and final offer" they put forward last week, which means lost games are becoming much more of a possibility. That indicates that the league's digging in, but it also suggests that the divide's still about much more than just the cap ceiling.

It's notable that the sides may be much further apart on how much money players actually will receive than the cap ceiling terms suggest, as various benefits, bonuses, pensions and so on are not included under the cap. The league has said their proposal of a $600,000 cap increase per team from 2013 represents an $850,000 increase in total player compensation per team and that the players' previous one (with a $5.8 million cap, a $1.4 million increase from 2013) represented a $2.4 million increase per team. That would mean that the CFL wants to boost non-cap payments to players by $250,000 per team this year, while the players' previous proposal wanted those boosted by $1 million. It's unclear if the CFLPA's latest proposal maintained the same level of non-cap payments as their previous one, but if it did, there would still be still a $750,000 divide per team there as well as the $200,000 one on the cap ceiling, making for a total gap of $950,000 per team. Whether the league's teams could afford to meet the players' demands is a matter of debate (analyses of the top and middle groups of teams suggest they probably could, but at least some of the bottom group might have issues), but even if the players have come down a little on non-cap payments, the divide is still likely wider than just the $200,000 in the cap ceiling.

There are plenty of issues at stake here beyond just the money in the first year, too. The league wants a five-year deal, while the players are proposing a four-year one with the ability to renegotiate it if league (non-Grey Cup) revenues rise by $18 million. That's a substantial step towards the CFL's position from last week, where the players wanted the ability opt out after a $12 million revenue increase, but the league may still refuse to consider anything that could end this agreement early. The players also want a $400,000 boost to the cap ceiling in year two and a $200,000 one each year afterwards; the league's proposal is only for a $50,000 rise each year. Beyond that, the union's player-safety proposals still seem divisive, particularly their demand for independent neurologists, and while those haven't been talked about as much recently, they may still represent a sticking point in negotiations. The players also still are calling for changes to the "option clause, practice times and contact during practices, pension plan, salary protection and medical treatment when players are injured late in the season, and maintaining the provision in the Collective Agreement that requires all Contract Advisors/Agents to be registered with the C.F.L.P.A." Thus, there's a lot to debate still, and the sides don't seem particularly close.

The biggest obstacle to resolving this dispute before games are missed may be about both sides' perceptions of the others' actions, though. The players are frustrated that they've reduced their initial salary cap demands by over $1 million (their first proposal was a $6.24 million cap ceiling) while the league's only gone up by $200,000, and they're annoyed that the league is proving unwilling to negotiate any further than last week's "best offer." They're also likely peeved that the CFL keeps asking for the "best offer" to be put to a vote of all players; that's an attempt to go over the head of the union and its negotiating committee, and it doesn't indicate a lot of respect for the CFLPA's leadership (in fact, it suggests that the league thinks the players will mutiny). As CFLPA president Scott Flory said Tuesday, "Our guys are insulted and upset by what's going on."

Meanwhile, the CFL still thinks the players are being unreasonable and asking for more than the league can afford. Whether that's true or not is up for debate. It's notable that even the players' initial cap proposal was less than the new TV money each team's getting, and their proposal last week would have total compensation less than the new TV money, so each team would still have been better off than they were in 2013. The league said that deal would have caused six of nine teams to lose money, though (two years after six of eight broke even or made money), so its position is that there are increasing costs and/or declining revenues elsewhere. Whether the league can afford to meet the players' demands is rather a moot point at the moment, though; they've made it clear that they're not going to. It seems unlikely that the players will move further right now given the lack of response from the CFL, and the league doesn't appear terribly interested in meeting them halfway. That suggests that our next step is a strike. Unless something unexpected happens, preseason and perhaps even regular-season games may not go ahead as scheduled.

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