League right in denying compensation claim, wrong in rules going forward

Two Fridays ago, the compensation saga between the Ottawa Redblacks and Edmonton Eskimos finally reached a conclusion with the league ruling that the Eskimos did not need to compensate the Redblacks for hiring Jason Maas.

To catch everyone up, the fiasco started when the Redblacks demanded some form of compensation from the Eskimos in exchange for the latter hiring the former’s offensive coordinator as their new head coach. The Esks were in the market for a new coach when Chris Jones left the team for the Saskatchewan Roughriders just days after the Eskimos won the Grey Cup.

It was Ottawa’s claim that since Maas still had a year left on his contract that they should get something in return for letting him leave to coach another team. The Eskimos claimed that compensation had never been granted in the case of a coach moving from one team to another for a promotion. Things hit a stalemate, the commissioner intervened and it all came to an end on April 2 when the league ruled in the Eskimos’ favour.

This was unequivocally the correct decision.

Compensation should never be granted for a coach accepting a promotion and it was wrong of Ottawa to even think they were entitled to something in return for the Eskimos hiring Maas.

Moving forward, however, it became clear that the unwritten rule all teams abided by regarding coaching moves needed to be written. There is nothing wrong with that. It is good to get clarity and have something tangible to point at and say, “This is how it is done.”

And the league tried to do just that when they mandated that under-contract coaches could move if given consent by their current team and the commissioner, but that compensation would need to be worked out prior to any interview.

This was unequivocally the incorrect decision.

Simply put, the old unwritten rule needed just to be written. If a coach is offered a promotion, they are free to leave with no compensation going the other way. Simple and easy-to-understand. The league instead chose to complicate matters by even offering the possibility of compensation for coach leaving for a promotion, and added the silly written consent provisions. They even added penalties, including fines and the loss of draft picks, for teams failing to follow this new protocol.

Again, the league got this completely wrong, and in some ways gave credence to Ottawa’s claims.

Ottawa received a lot of flak from most CFL followers when this whole fiasco started back in December, because it felt like they were trying to change the very rules they benefitted from when the rules no longer worked in their favour. They did not care about compensation when they went poaching coaches from the other eight CFL teams, but once one of their coaches was in high demand — as Maas was after the remarkable turnaround Ottawa’s offense made in 2015 under his watch — the rules needed to be altered so Ottawa could benefit once again. And the league has essentially validated this viewpoint with their inane new coaching policy.

While the league did the right thing in denying Ottawa’s claim for compensation, they got it wrong in how coaching moves will work going forward. Instead of providing clarity, they only slightly unmuddied the waters.

The league had a chance to get this 100 per cent right and failed. We will have to wait until next offseason, when the coaching carousel spins once again, to see the ramifications of this new rule and its lasting impact on the game.

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