Thursday and Friday’s CFL-CFLPA CBA talks may determine if 2014 season starts on time

Will there be a CFLPA strike that delays this CFL season? Thursday and Friday's collective bargaining agreement negotiations in Toronto may provide the answer. Of course, the sides have been negotiating for months (since before even the CFLPA changed its leadership) with little tangible progress, but the urgency to get a deal done ratcheted up even further earlier this week with the news that the union's negotiating committee was recommending players proceed with a strike vote. Now, TSN's Matthew Scianitti is reporting that the union is planning to mail out ballots if no progress is made in this week's talks:

With the two sides making little progress over the last six months, however, it appears the players' union is prepared for another deadlock.

"The (PA's strike) ballots are ready to be mailed out," said a source with knowledge of the negotiations, but who spoke on conditions of anonymity.

Sources have told TSN that the CFLPA has steadily prepared for the possibility of a strike vote for weeks, by accumulating addresses of its members, and reviewing labour laws in provinces with CFL teams.

"This is not a negotiation tactic - this is something the players feel they need to explore if no progress is made Thursday and Friday," the source said.

Of course, a vote is going to be complicated, as the CFL has teams in six different provinces, all with their own sets of labour laws. Scianitti mentions that Quebec labour laws in particular require CBAs to expire before a strike vote can be held, and the CBA doesn't officially expire until May 29, so there could be a delay here. Still, the players' association's leadership has made it very clear that they won't play under an extension of the old CBA. If that position is endorsed by their members, veterans won't report to training camps unless a deal is reached (rookies aren't members of the union yet, so rookie camps should go ahead as scheduled), and pre-season or even regular-season games could be delayed or cancelled.

Thus, there's a lot depending on this week's talks, and there are plenty of hurdles to overcome. The player safety (and concussion safety) proposals the CFLPA brought up this week are likely going to be a subject of some discussion, but the even more important debate is still about the philosophical impasse between the sides; the players want their salary cap to be set at a portion of league revenues, while the league rejects that idea in favour of a fixed-number cap. Until one side or the other is set to cross that line, talks may not get far. (It's notable that the league so far has reportedly proposed only a moderate increase to the existing cap averaging $75,000 per year, so they're not even being terribly flexible under their preferred revenue system; Scianitti's piece suggests they have another counter-proposal ready, but won't unveil it unless players abandon the idea of revenue-sharing, which seems unlikely.) The talks this week will be interesting to keep tabs on, but unless one side or the other makes substantial concessions, the possibility of missed games is looming large.