The CFL has lost plenty of players to the NFL over the years, but losing one to the oil and gas industry is more unusual. That appears to be the case with Canadian running back Steven Lumbala, who recently announced his retirement from the Montreal Alouettes at age 23. Lumbala, the younger brother of B.C. fullback Rolly Lumbala, had an impressive college career with the Calgary Dinos, and Montreal picked him fifth overall in the 2013 draft. He mostly contributed on special teams during his first two CFL seasons, only recording nine carries, but showed some potential and seemed to possibly have a bright football future ahead of him. As Kirk Penton writes in The Toronto Sun, though, Lumbala has given that up for a more lucrative opportunity:
Lumbala, who was the fifth overall selection in 2013 out of the University of Calgary, has quit football at the age of 23 to take a job in the oil and gas industry.
“He said it was a much higher paying job than he thought he would ever get, so he just made a decision not to play,” Popp said.
Popp heard through the grapevine this winter that Lumbala might be packing it in, which is why he signed free agent running back Carl Volny out of Winnipeg.
“I wanted someone with experience and understood the league,” Popp said. “We liked him coming out of school, too. We think he can be a productive special teams player.”
First off, this is Lumbala's decision, and he shouldn't take criticism for it. No one's forced to play football, and if he wants to make more money without as many long-term health risks (although that may be debatable depending on just what kind of oil and gas work this is; that industry has some hazardous jobs too), that may be a good call for him. This does point to an issue with CFL compensation, though. This is a league that still doesn't pay its players much in the grand scheme of things; it has a minimum salary of $51,000 in 2015 and has most teams likely spend less than 22 per cent of their total revenues on salaries.
$51,000 is better than a lot of jobs, of course, especially when you consider that it's mostly for six months of full-time work (players do need to train in the offseason, and there are minicamps and other workouts to consider, but the majority of the CFL's work takes place during the season), and the CFL obviously doesn't currently have the resources to compete with NFL salaries (a minimum of $435,000 for active-roster players in 2015, or $102,000 for players who spend the whole season on the practice squad). It is notable that the CFL's not just competing with the NFL, though; it's competing with other private sector jobs, and while keeping player salaries down may be good for teams' bottom lines, it does mean that we'll occasionally see players like Lumbala decide they can do better outside of football.
This isn't a massive talent drain yet, and there are always plenty of players who do want to play in the CFL, but it's still something the league should keep an eye on. Lumbala isn't the only one here, as some other players have considered pursuing medicine or law instead of Canadian football. There are also plenty of ways this could be mitigated. For one, the salary cap could be boosted, giving more money to players in general. Without that, the minimum salary could be boosted further, making entry-level CFL contracts a little more competitive against the general job marketplace. Teams also could make an effort to give players like Lumbala who might have other options a bit more of a chance a bit sooner; playing on special teams isn't nearly as glamourous as getting regular carries at RB, and if that was Montreal's ultimate plan for him, it might have made sense to use him more in that role earlier. Even if some of these fixes are considered or implemented, though, the CFL's still going to lose some players. Lumbala's case just shows that the league needs to watch out for the rest of the work world as well as other professional sports.