Argos escaping fine a black eye on the league, commissioner

The Toronto Argonauts — yes, the 2019 team that finished 4-14 — were fined for exceeding the salary cap last season.

Except they weren’t.

There wasn’t a recalculation that determined the Argos didn’t exceed the cap, just a statement from the league that read that due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that teams that violated the salary cap in 2019 wouldn’t be penalized.

What?!

Someone needs to explain to me why a team that exceeded the cap in 2019 is getting a free pass because of a pandemic that didn’t hit until well after that season was played.

I understand that times are tight and the league is in a bit of a dire strait right now, but the Argos didn’t exceed the cap due to COVID-19-related reasons; they spent over the cap because, well, they just did.

We can mock them for doing so while finishing with the league’s second-worst record, but that doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. The Argos broke the rules and are escaping scot-free.

Conspiracies aside — and you better believe this will just drum up more talk that the league allows the Argos to play by a different set of rules than everyone else — this is a horrible look for a league that really could use some positive press right about now. Or at least, not more negative press.

Since the pandemic hit, we have seen the commissioner bumble and stumble his way through a plea to the federal government for public funds to keep the league alive, get pilloried by the players for being left in the dark about whether there will be a season or not, and look foolish for claiming he is communicating with the CFLPA when the PA says he is not.

The commissioner, who came into the job three years ago with grandiose ideas that got everyone excited, has been more talk than action. The things he does get accomplished seem slapdash and not entirely thought out — regardless of how you feel about his globalization initiative, you can’t disagree that its roll out was less than stellar — and it just seems as if he is making it up as he goes along.

Part of the reason for this thinking, at least in this corner, is the CFL’s lack of transparency. Fans and media are kept in the dark about almost everything until the very last minute, and usually it’s a couple minutes after that.

That note from the league stating they weren’t fining teams for cap violations because of COVID-19 came out after the story broke that the Argos exceeded the cap. If the league wanted to implement a one-time, get-out-of-jail-free card, then they should have said so months or weeks ago. Heck, days ago would have been better than after the fact.

People who follow and cover the league are kept in the dark about so much regarding the CFL that to list them all could be a piece all to itself.

While making that announcement probably doesn’t quell any of the dismay people have over the decision not to fine the Argos, at least it wouldn’t look like the league was making up the rules as it went along.

It also makes one wonder what will happen if a team violates the cap in 2020. That year the pandemic actually had an impact on the teams’ ability to generate revenue, unlike the 2019 season which was business as usual. If a team violates the cap in 2020 they should absolutely still be fined, just like the Argos should have been for their 2019 violation. But when the league gets bombarded with negative press and angry fans they will only have themselves to blame.

I understand that we are in unprecedented times, and that maybe a compromise could have been worked out — deferring the payment or spreading it out over a couple seasons would take into account what is happening right now without delegitimizing the league’s cap system — but that doesn’t mean the rules that everyone agreed to shouldn’t still be upheld in some form or fashion.

The Argos spent over the cap and should have be fined for it just like every other team that has done so since the cap was implemented. Letting the Argos skate on this is another black eye for the league and, when he least can afford it, the commissioner himself.

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Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.