League’s discipline for Riders inexplicably weak

The CFL announced its disciplinary action for the Riders’ illegal roster management on Thursday afternoon, handing down a fine of $60,000 and reducing Saskatchewan’s 2016 salary cap by $26,000. It was a disappointing (though not entirely surprising) punishment dealt by a league office that has often been criticized for being too lenient in the area of discipline.

It’s unclear when $60,000 became the maximum fine for the league’s member clubs, but it’s an amount that is no longer appropriate for the modern CFL. $60,000 is hardly a rich sum for the league’s least prosperous teams — for an economic powerhouse like the Roughriders, it’s chump change.

The $26,000 salary cap reduction is even more inconsequential for the green and white. With high-priced veterans like Chris Best, Brendon LaBatte, and Eric Norwood on the six-game injured list, Saskatchewan should have plenty of cap flexibility this season. The ineptitude of the Riders’ on-field play should also result in fewer players reaching contract incentives, further reducing the club’s cap crunch.

Some will be quick to point out that Saskatchewan isn’t the only team that cheats — subverting roster rules, after all, is as much a time-honored CFL tradition as the rouge. In this case of this year’s rule subversion, however, the Riders took cheating to an unprecedented level. And they got caught. Big time.

Harsh discipline in the form of a suspension or loss of a draft pick (or both) would have served as a strong deterrent for other CFL clubs from committing similar rule violations in the future. Instead, the league has made it clear that cheating is permitted provided teams are willing to pay a little bit extra for their transgressions.

The irony in Thursday’s disciplinary action is that the salary cap was adopted in 2006 to help small market teams like Saskatchewan. Rider Nation (or whatever it was called pre-2005) bore witness to a decade of disastrous football during the 1990s, cheering in vain for a miserable squad that routinely lost its top talent to teams with more money to spend. With Saskatchewan now at the top of the CFL’s economic food chain, the league needs to continue to work on behalf of its less-privileged markets in order to maintain competitive balance. Thursday’s paltry fine fails to accomplish this on any level.

Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge claimed through the league’s official statement that the Riders’ actions had “compromised the reputation of the CFL.” To Mr. Orridge I would ask what is more damaging to the CFL’s reputation: a rich team paying extra players paltry sums to practice illegally or a league office that fails to properly discipline a member club for running roughshod over its outdated, rarely-enforced regulations? In the opinion of this blogger, the answer is clearly the latter.

The New Orleans Saints’ 2011 bounty scandal — “Bountygate,” as it became popularly known — is the most serious rule transgression the NFL has faced over the past decade. That investigation resulted in a $500,000 fine, the loss of two second round draft picks, and eight suspensions: general manager Mickey Loomis, eight games; head coach Sean Payton, season; defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, indefinite; assistant head coach Joe Vitt, six games; and four four-game player suspensions that were later overturned.

It would be unfair to suggest that Saskatchewan’s Rostergate (Are we calling it that? No? Okay.) is on par with Bountygate, but it’s still a serious transgression that needs to be dealt with in an appropriate way. To not penalize the Riders with so much as a one-game suspension for head coach Chris Jones or the forfeiture of a high-round draft pick is laughable.

The bottom line is this: the CFL’s nine teams break a number of league rules on a daily basis and have been doing so for years. The league’s kid-glove approach to Rostergate (Still not a thing? Okay.) will do nothing to change this moving forward.




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