Eight reasons the CFL should publicize player contracts

Publicizing CFL player contracts is a topic I’ve written about extensively in the past. Nothing’s changed in recent years and it’s likely nothing will until the terms of the league’s next collective bargaining agreement are negotiated following the 2018 season. This won’t stop me from calling for change, though. Reporters around the league can be relied upon to uncover a fair amount of contractual information, while websites like LoonieCap have done a commendable job of archiving it. Even with these factors in mind, however, it’s time for the CFL’s antiquated practice of keeping player contracts “secret” to end. Here are eight reasons why.

1. It’s good for collective bargaining.

The Canadian Football League Players’ Association made it clear they wanted a larger slice of the league’s revenue pie in the latest round of CBA negotiations. If the players want to earn more support from the public in this pursuit, the course is clear: let us know how much you actually make to begin with. The CFLPA has dragged its heels on disclosing player salaries in the past, a counter-productive tactic that has hurt them at the bargaining table. Disclosing their salaries would earn the players more fan support when it comes time to negotiate the next CBA in 2019.

2. Increase fan interest.

There is a quiet buzz starting to build around a few of the CFL’s highest-profile pending free agents, a group that includes B.C. running back Andrew Harris, Hamilton defensive tackle Ted Laurent, and Toronto quarterbacks Ricky Ray and Trevor Harris. Imagine what this buzz would be like if we knew the contract status of all CFL players? Fans would be able to track the production of all pending free agents throughout their contract years, discussion that would help keep fans engaged year-round.

3. Many CFL players are public employees.

The Edmonton Eskimos, Saskatchewan Roughriders, and Winnipeg Blue Bombers are publicly-owned football teams that employ almost 200 players combined. Yet, unlike virtually all other public entities, none of these teams are required to disclose how its employees are compensated. This is simply unacceptable. The salaries of public employees need to be publicized because they paid with public dollars. It’s that simple. A quick google search will reveal how much teachers in Ontario make every year, the hourly wages of government tradespeople in Vancouver, and the salary of the premier of New Brunswick. Why aren’t our publicly-employed athletes held to the same standard of transparency?

4. Keep players accountable.

CFL all-stars should never be begrudged the comfortable salaries they earn, and, in many respects, nor should any athlete who puts his or her health at risk for the purpose of our entertainment. Still, I don’t believe there’s any harm in publishing contract information to, in part, hold underachieving players accountable to one another and their fans. As mentioned in the point above, we do the same for our politicians, teachers, and other public workers. Why not our football players?

5. Rookie contracts are often identical…

We already know that the majority of American rookies earn the league’s minimum salary ($51,000 per season in 2016) on their first contracts, virtually all of which are two years in length. This fact allows us to dismiss the “it’s none of our business what players make” argument, even for the CFL’s privately-owned teams. And, as noted in the final point of this list, there are other professional sports leagues that disclose player contracts despite paying out lower minimum salaries than the CFL.

6. …and the rest often leak, anyway.

Teams and agents — whoever gets the better end of the deal, usually — leak the terms of player contracts all the time. Why, then, would the CFL and CFLPA not agree to require its teams to release contractual information as deals are signed? This would keep things clean and organized, while also eliminating the spread of misinformation.

7. Analysis of positional talent.

Some player positions — quarterback, kicker, and wide receiver, for instance — are easy for fans and media to scrutinize. Others, like guard, safety, and defensive tackle, aren’t as easy to judge from afar. Knowing how much players at these positions earn would give us a better understanding of who the league’s top talents are.

8. Every other major professional sports league does it.

Saying ‘no’ to peer pressure may have been a good thing in our teenage years, but this instance is different. Forcing fans and journalists to scour through old newspaper articles and twitter archives to find out how long players are signed for makes the CFL look bush league. Every other major professional sports league readily discloses salary information — even Major League Soccer, which has a lower minimum salary than the CFL. For this reason and the rest listed above, it’s time for the CFL to follow the lead of every other major sports league on the continent and disclose the terms of player contracts.

John Hodge, Blue Bomber Talk

Twitter: @BlueBomberTalk

Email: bluebombertalk@gmail.com

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.