Some Canadian Football League fans look at the new collective bargaining agreement and find the settlement unsettling for its dilutive effect on the ratio.
But where they see erosion, others predict evolution; that the steady rise of Canadian talent at several roster positions will eventually create enough depth to ward off the predicted incursion of nationalized Americans. That scenario may well be expedited if both the XFL and USFL grab a foothold and consistently siphon off high-level American talent.
Still other CFL observers may never be bothered to make the distinction between a nationalized American and homegrown Canadian, at least as far as it serves their team’s success and their own fandom.
Bargaining committees for the CFL and CFL Players Association tip-toed through those divergent demographics to settle on a ratio-altering formula that takes effect in 2023, when the number of Canadian starters jumps from seven to eight, but one can be a nationalized American. In addition, two nationalized Americans can play up to 49 per cent of the snaps for a Canadian starter that year. The CFL has the option to make it three nationalized Americans in the rotation in 2024 and beyond.
By definition, a nationalized American is a player starting his sixth season in the CFL or fourth with his current club. Most of them are already starters.
The deal maintains 21 Canadians and at least seven starters on each roster throughout the seven-year term, and incentivizes teams to play homegrown talent by re-directing two second-round territorial draft picks to teams with the highest number of Canadian snaps.
The ratio was easily the most contentious item contained in a multi-faceted CBA that broke ground on revenue sharing and partially guaranteed contracts for veterans, provided extended medical coverage and health and safety programming, salary equality for global players, and a seat for players on the board of CFL Ventures, the league’s new commercial unit that will be at the forefront of growth initiatives.
Partnerships, prosperity and labour peace are fine and dandy, but in the immediate afterglow of this deal the CFL has been forced to defend a desire to alter the starting ratio in the name of flexibility for coaching staffs.
“I think we should be absolutely clear, we protected 21 jobs for our Canadian players and that’s fundamental to who we are,” CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said Friday. “We are not saying Canadians can’t play. What we are saying is Canadians can compete and it’s a fact in every sport on the planet today,” he continued, mentioning prominent Canucks in hoops, hockey and Olympic sport.
“We are absolutely convinced our Canadian athletes can compete in the CFL. They have always competed. And frankly what we’re hearing repeatedly through our marketing research is that the next generation of CFL fans, the ones who will help drive our long-term success, they’re attracted to competition and excellence.”
On Tuesday, while the CFLPA was digesting the league’s amended proposal for six Canadian starters and a nationalized American, Ambrosie explored the issue of depth as it relates to the ratio.
“There are now, we believe, 24 Canadians playing on NFL rosters and they are evidence of how good Canadian football players can be and are. It also tells us that in past generations, those players would have played in the CFL, and that is putting some pressure on our teams as it relates to the depth of our Canadian talent.
“Not once has the question of Canadian talent been raised. There is a concern about the depth of the Canadian talent, especially when you get into injuries. And then from time to time we see a Canadian athlete forced into duty who is not ready yet. Those players can often suffer because in those times when they are being asked to play and they are not ready, that can be a setback for their careers. And we want them to get ready and then they become this generation’s Rod Connops and Pierre Verchevals and Larry Wrucks and Don Moens.”
The CFL backed away more than once from more radical alterations than the one ratified by players on Thursday. The league’s initial proposal, which was not taken seriously by the CFLPA, provided no Canadian ratio protection at all.
A player source said the league’s real intention was to allow up to two nationalized Americans to play among the seven Canadian starters. The two sides initially came to a complex compromise; proposing as many as three nationalized Americans, all designated imports, playing up to 49 per cent of a Canadian starter’s snaps. The CFLPA membership rejected the entire deal based on opposition to that change.
The CFL came back with a six and one formula, the CFLPA dug in its heels, and the end result on the ratio was achieved. But not in a vacuum.
While some people have chosen to focus only on the ratio, the two sides were negotiating a much larger package, with give and take on many fronts. And in a last-minute concession to ensure the deal went through, the CFL also increased the ratification bonus from $1 million to $1.225 million, moving revenue sharing money from the back end of the deal into the pockets of Canadians, Americans, globals and nationalized Americans alike.