ANALYSIS: CFL staff, players losing trust in league’s leadership under Randy Ambrosie

The trust in Randy Ambrosie’s leadership has been chipped away and the man himself took a sledge hammer to the majority of it on Monday.

Ambrosie delivered a unilateral directive to cut football operations salaries by more than $500,000 per franchise. The move effectively overrides contracts that league employees signed and hurts support staff at low and mid-level salaries the most.

A sampling of the reactions by those affected:

“How will this solve the league’s problems when they have failed to generate increased revenue?”

“It shows how the commissioner cannot do his job, so what he does is cut to save his ass.”

“Do you really see this season happening given how the league is going about their plan?”

“Is the CFL really losing $10 to $20 million per season? How do we know if the books aren’t made public?”

“A 20 percent cut to football operations, all staff will be getting salary cut by that amount. This comes from Ambrosie who can’t even present a plan to the government.”

“Why isn’t there a cap on salaries for team presidents?”

“Coaches need a union, we get it worst than the players.”

“Ambrosie sounds like a used car salesman, we can’t believe anything that comes out of his mouth.”

“We have contract law in this country, which apparently doesn’t apply.”

“I’m losing faith in the integrity of the CFL leadership.”

Many reactions included curse words, condemning the actions of the commissioner and rightfully so. The anger is at an all-time high, and it’s understandable. Ambrosie has repeatedly stated during the COVID-19 pandemic that everyone in the league is supposed to be playing on “Team Canada,” but he’s far from a man deserving of wearing the captain ‘C’.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, albeit it in a completely different pay stratosphere, voluntarily requested his salary be slashed to zero amid the coronavirus crisis and definitively announced it. That came before league employees had their pay cut, but it displayed Goodell was no different than anyone who works under him.

Meanwhile in Canada, there has been no definitive statement from Ambrosie or the CFL office about the commish leading from the front. Since Ambrosie was hired in July 2017, he’s been collecting around $750,000 per year, and bonus incentives could increase his annual earnings to approximately $1 million. Until Ambrosie makes it crystal clear he’s significantly reduced his take home pay, the actions will have a “do as I say, not as I do” feel for many across the country and in league circles.

As the quarterback of a dedicated and passionate 3DownNation team, yours truly has not drawn a dime out of the company ever since the site went independent — the focus remains to invest in the future. There are many ways to operate a business, and no one model is perfect, but it’s hypocritical to pay only lip service without actual and meaningful action.

It is unfair to put the entire blame on Ambrosie. There are the team presidents, especially the longest-serving who won’t disclose their salaries. They were in on the final decision to reduce staff income. Except their own, of course.

One source described how the CFL operates: “Ambrosie, Scott Mitchell and Wade Miller run the league. Presidents in the CFL are not accountable. Where are they in all this? How come their salaries are not disclosed?”

The common theme when listening to employees around the league: presidents continue to make cuts while demonstrating a lack of accountability. They roll out cuts to people that are now continually counted on to earn less and do more.

“Someone needs to do some serious investigating on the leagues finances,” one source said.

If the league was honest and transparent, nobody would be asking for an examination of the accounting books. That said, creative accounting can take place and hide the real numbers. Former Toronto Blue Jays executive Paul Beeston once famously said: “I can turn a $4 million profit into a $2 million loss and get every national accounting firm to agree with me.”

The Saskatchewan Roughriders, according to numbers the team most recently released, brought in over $30 million in revenues during the 2019 season, but posted a $200,000 loss even though player salaries — supposedly capped at $5.25 million — are the largest expense franchises have each year. It’s one example of how the math doesn’t add up or can be altered.

CFL 2.0 has burned through money in its short time. Just in player salaries and costs alone, the league has spent well over $1 million with little return or even the prospect of the initiative paying for itself. Money is being taken from those keeping the league going and dumped into a program which won’t benefit anyone in Canada or the United States, the two main labour suppliers for the league.

“I am taking more than a $50,000 pay cut, but Ambrosie still has us on schedule for his COVID Global draft. Which after flying in, feeding, housing and quarantining players, that cost will be at least $400,000,” one source said. 

“So 50 Globals flown in at the last minute and put up in a hotel for two weeks of quarantine and then a three-day combine, fly them to a CFL city, only to be cut 10 days later at a time when the rest of us are taking pay cuts? It’s poor leadership and a general lack of understanding of the message it sends to the people asked to do the work.”

The best assets the CFL has are already feeling the pain and it’s about to become even more ugly. Ambrosie is going to use the football operations cuts as the impetus for rolling back the players’ earnings. Keep in mind, it was just over one year ago the league agreed to raise the minimum salary from $54,000 to $65,000.

“I know that a lot of players aren’t happy with the options we are being given and the league is going to try and put us in a tough spot instead of actually helping us,” one source said.

“They haven’t even picked up the phone to the players. At every turn Ambrosie lies and makes things worse than they have to be.”

The amount of distrust created since Ambrosie has taken office is enough to fill every stadium in the league and it has many calling for new trustworthy leadership at the top.

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.