When CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie suggested his players should work offseason jobs it was met with a resounding applause. A leader telling his employees the straight goods of how to make ends meet and transition into civilian life when it’s all over.
In an era of hearing about spoiled professional athletes all the time, blue-collar fans loved the reality check. Team owners embraced their leader for taking the pressure off them to jack up the salary cap in what will be the most contentious round of collective bargaining between their league and players association in recent memory following the 2018 season.
It seemed so simple watching Ambrosie get that applause on-stage when he said it. Problem is, it’s not that simple at all.
CFL Player is Not a Part-time Job
Average Joe’s Don’t Live with Pro Athlete Realities
We sometimes forget that being a professional athlete is accomplished by a very small part of the general population. For every job available, there are dozens of elite athletes lining up to fight for it. Most of us don’t make it and the few who do pay an enormous price to get there. Long hours of training, dieting and learning new techniques is essential to survive in the big leagues, let alone thrive. This applies to those who play in the Canadian Football League.
And just because the CBA caps work days in the CFL to 4.5 hours, 6 months out of the year doesn’t mean the players work ends there. In fact, the teams themselves complain it’s barely enough time to install their game-plan and practice reps for the backups are becoming less all the time.
Keeping up with the Jones’s is an impossibility if you’re only going to follow that schedule. The offseason isn’t much easier. Gone are the days of playing yourself into shape during training camp. The expectation nowadays is to be in shape for the start of 2-a-days. Strength and conditioning coaches can offer an offseason workout regimen but most of them go home for the winter and don’t provide one-on-one offseason guidance like they do in the NFL.
In many cases the player is left on his own. Especially if he’s an American not protected by the non-import ratio.
Offseason Training Expensive
Hall of Famer Eddie Davis did 15 years as a defensive back in the CFL. He says to be an elite athlete, you have work like one year-round, “People don’t understand the cost it entails to be an elite athlete. Guys have to pay their trainers 10, 15, 20, 25 thousand dollars in the offseason just to train and stay on top of their game so I think (the players) need to be paid for what they’re putting out on the field and for investing in their craft.”
Football coaches are getting paid more than they’ve ever been paid to work in Canada and are enjoying the spoils of that along with lighter work schedules than their counterparts down south. It brought Ticats Assistant Head Coach Orlondo Steinhauer back from the NCAA and no less than 4 other coaches with NFL head coaching experience on their resumes.
Player salaries have barely kept pace with inflation through all of this and it’s not just the players who’ve taken notice. Retirees like Davis have seen it from both ends having played for so many years but also now watching friends like Blue Bomber Head Coach Mike O’Shea and Defensive Co-ordinator Richie Hall running a sideline.
Eddie likes what’s happening in the CFL but admits the players don’t seem to be reaping the rewards of a growing league which appears as strong as it’s ever been. “I think the players need to get some of that revenue as well. You’re only as good as the product you’re putting out there on the field. And so if the players aren’t good than the games aren’t going to be good. The game is picking up. Marketing is looking great from the CFL point of view and so the players need to reflect some of the benefits the CFL is getting.”
And that doesn’t even begin to include the long-term risks associated with playing pro football, ie. concussions, head trauma, arthritis, etc.
Revenue Sharing Best Solution
Western Canadians hate the idea of giving equalization payments to Eastern Canada. I hear it every day on talk radio and in the coffee shops of the Western Canadian city in which I live. And so the thought of their beloved Saskatchewan Roughriders, Edmonton Eskimos or Winnipeg Blue Bombers coughing up any of their hard-earned dollars to help other teams around the league sign better players to take into any one of their stadiums to try and beat their home team would appear unfathomable to stomach.
But much like the armageddon confrontation of Major League Baseball and it’s union which snuffed out the ’94 season–and the Montreal Expos last real shot at a World Series–this round of bargaining will no doubt hear rhetoric from CFLPA Executive Director Brian Ramsay and President Jeff Keeping suggest it’s up to the owners to distribute their revenue so every team can adequately compensate its players.
Those western teams will have to understand there is no league without TV markets like Toronto, Montreal, and BC.
Making everyone happy won’t be simple.
At least not as simple as saying everyone should just work a second job.