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CFLPA feels biggest amendment it reached with CFL was getting players back on field

CFL teams will have one less Global player in 2021 but access to five-player taxi squads when they resume play later this summer. The CFL's board of governors voted in favour Monday of kicking off a 14-game schedule starting Aug.

CFL teams will have one less Global player in 2021 but access to five-player taxi squads when they resume play later this summer.

The CFL's board of governors voted in favour Monday of kicking off a 14-game schedule starting Aug. 5 after the league cancelled plans for an abbreviated 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A big part of that was the CFL and CFL Players' Association agreeing to an amended collective-bargaining agreement last week, which the union ratified Wednesday night before the board did so Monday.

Brian Ramsay, the CFLPA's executive director, said Tuesday the two sides agreed on more than 19 amendments. Among them was limiting the number of Global players a team must have this year from two to one, which in turn reduced active rosters by one player to 45.

However, CFL teams will also be allowed five-player taxi squads (which all clubs can access) in addition to their 13-man practice rosters. Also, the league's minimum salary of $65,000 will be pro-rated to just over $50,000 this season based upon a 14-game season rather than the normal 18-game campaign.

"I think the most important part is getting it amended and getting our members back to work," Ramsay said during a conference call. "That was our focus right from the onset.

"Within the agreement we've been able to secure and work through some rigorous safety protocols and the inclusion of some committees while also retaining the ability for players to maximize their earning potential this year."

The CFL still has at least one hurdle remaining before it can resume play. The federal government has received its request for a national interest exemption for modified quarantine for the upcoming season and is reviewing the proposal with provincial health authorities.

Essentially, the CFL is asking Ottawa for the same exemptions it provided for the NHL. The federal government waived its mandatory 14-day quarantine period for players acquired by Canadian NHL teams from American clubs "under national interest grounds" prior to the league's April 12 trade deadline.

Under those terms, CFL players would observe a seven-day quarantine upon arrival into Canada and be subject to daily COVID testing. Players would be eligible to suit up for their teams while continuing to undergo daily testing the following week.

The amended CBA excludes exhibition games this year and the regular-season schedule released Tuesday by the CFL has some quick turnarounds for teams. Both Ramsay and CFLPA president Solomon Elimimian agree players and clubs will face challenges in 2021 but the schedule doesn't breach the existing collective agreement.

"I think everybody knows its going to be a year where you have to be flexible, you have to understand there are going to be challenges," Elimimian said. "When we looked at the season schedule it doesn't violate the current collective agreement, health-and-safety was a priority of ours.

"We will collaborate in terms of things that might happen (during camp) like scrimmaging with various teams. All in all, flexibility is something that guys understand. It's not an ideal year but we will work through (it) and be happy to get back on the field."

The CFL's decision to resume play comes less than a year after it shelved plans for an abbreviated season. The league cancelled the 2020 campaign last August after failing to secure a $30-million, interest-free loan from Ottawa.

A source has said not playing football last year cost the CFL between $60-and-$80-million. The source was granted anonymity because the league hasn't divulged its 2020 financial losses.

"I think everybody understands the ramifications of not having a season," Elimimian said. "Our job is to put together the best package for players to get back on to the football field but ultimately they (league) have to make that decision.

"I'm glad they made the right decision, everybody seems to be very relieved.  Everybody is happy from the players' standpoint to get back on the football field."

The current collective agreement expires prior to the start of training camp next year,  meaning a return soon to the bargaining table. In the past, talks between the CFL and its players have sometimes been testy but the hope is, given the two sides have spoken often the past two years, they now have a sense of familiarity with each other.

"Well we hope so," Ramsay said. "The more you talk together I think the more you understand and over the last couple of years . . . there sure have been a lot of discussions between the two groups.

"I think there's a hope we can take this momentum and use that going forward in our discussions that we know are upcoming."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 15, 2021.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press