Sports

CFL players relieved contract talks over

A worker paints a CFL logo in Montreal, in 2010. The league and its Players
A worker paints a CFL logo in Montreal, in 2010. The league and its Players' Association ratified a new deal on Friday, which will put the 2014 season back on track to start this summer.
— image credit: Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

By Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

TORONTO - B.C. Lions kicker Paul McCallum is looking forward to turning his attention back to football.

The CFL's labour dispute officially ended Friday when the CFL board of governors ratified the tentative agreement reached last weekend. The CFL Players' Association accepted the five-year deal Thursday.

The agreement ends a contentious, sometimes bitter four-month negotiation that had CFL players on the brink of a strike.

While the 44-year-old McCallum, the Lions player rep and the league's oldest active player, was critical of the agreement, he's happy to have a resolution.

"It's a relief," he said during a telephone interview Friday. "I didn't think it was going to be as much of a distraction as it turned out to be at the end. It's much better now for the players. It's over with, we can concentrate on practising and not if we're going to play so it's a positive."

There were plenty of other players who complained publicly about the deal, which includes a $5-million salary cap the first year, more than $1 million less than the union initially wanted but a $600,000 increase over last season.

"It's definitely a lot of stress off my shoulders," defensive back Eric Fraser, the Ottawa Redblacks' player rep, said of the deal being finalized. "It's good to finally get the vote done and let the players' voice be heard and get on with playing football."

Ottawa quarterback Henry Burris, affectionately known as Smilin' Hank, said he now has another reason to smile.

"For me, I just try to stay busy just so whatever the situation was coming to was going to be what it was," Burris said. "But once I heard the news, it definitely put a smile on my face."

The CFLPA didn't provide a breakdown of votes. A majority of players — 50 per cent plus one — on at least six clubs had to vote in favour of the deal for it to be accepted.

"I know exactly all the figures and I'm not going to tell you," McCallum said. "We can sit there and talk about shoulda, coulda, woulda . . . but at the end of the day it's over so we just have to put it behind us. All the guys agreed to take it so I guess that speaks volumes."

With an agreement in place, the 2014 regular season will kick off June 26 as scheduled. The deal runs through May 15, 2019, or the first day of training camp that year.

But if the combined revenues of the nine teams — excluding the Grey Cup — increase by more than $27 million in any year of the agreement, both sides will renegotiate a boost in the cap starting in the 2016 season.

The contract also changes player classifications from non-imports and imports to nationals and internationals. To be considered a national, the player must be a Canadian citizen when he signed his first contract, classified as a non-import before May 31, 2014, or have lived in Canada for five years before turning 18.

Other highlights include:

— Annual $50,000 salary-cap increases to $5.2 million in 2018

— $4.4-million cap minimum this year and annual $50,000 increases to $4.6 million in 2018

— Minimum salary going from $45,000 to $50,000 and increasing $1,000 annually to $54,000 in 2018

— Both sides increase pension contributions from $3,600 to $3,700 in '14 and an additional $100 annually to $4,100 in 2018

— A $1,500 rookie ratification bonus and $7,500 for veterans (CFLPA determines the veteran scale and bonuses go to players on rosters as of June 22)

— Boosting active rosters from 42 to 44 players while decreasing reserve roster from four to two players

— Replacing the nine-game injured list with a six-game list (clubs can pull up a maximum of two players early off the six-game list without it counting against the cap for any player remaining on for more than six games)

— Contact in just one practice daily during training camp and once weekly during the regular season

— Eliminating option-year requirement on all but rookie contracts

— Expanding practice rosters from seven to 10 players and 12 to 15 players in the fall portion of the season

"This agreement provides stability for our teams at the same time it improves pay, health and safety, and mobility for players," CFL commissioner Mark Cohon said in a statement.

Added CFLPA president Scott Flory: "The players are committed to putting the best possible product on the field and are excited to get back to the game that we all love."

Offensive lineman Peter Dyakowski, a Hamilton Tiger-Cats player rep, says the deal moves the CFL closer to expanding to Halifax because it provides long-term cost certainty.

"Halifax needs to get off its butt and get a stadium done," Dyakowski said. "We need to get to 10 teams, this is the natural progression.

"Now that we've got what I think is a very fair agreement that has a very long term, you can start talking about things like this . . . I think this new deal brings it that much closer to reality."

More importantly, Dyakowski said it gives football fans a season to look forward to.

"Some people talked about the players making compromises," he said. "At the end of the day we looked at the situation and decided even if we could squeeze out a better deal the collateral damage wouldn't have been worth it."

Fraser said the CFLPA also has the time to firmly establish a sound negotiating strategy for the next CBA.

"We're going to have to start building now for five years from now so we're not stuck in this position again where we're kind of a little bit shortsighted and not well planned enough to make a stand and really ask and receive what we think we deserve," he said. "In the past it's always been the league hasn't been in great shape so we've always had to concede.

"This time we were in a position of power and I think that will really help us next time."

— With files from Lisa Wallace in Ottawa

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