CFL product will be diminished if games played in 2020 with stars potentially unwilling to report

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

It remains unlikely that a 2020 CFL season will take place.

The league set a self-imposed deadline of July 23 for its recent offer to the CFL Players’ Association, a deal that would potentially see the Canadian federal government cover prorated salaries of all players.

There are a number of hurdles to overcome in a very short period of time. Even if the season gets underway using the proposed hub city model, a COVID-19 breakout could swiftly bring it to an end.

One issue that has yet to be resolved is report and pass bonuses. These incentives are relatively common in veteran contracts and are to be paid out after a player has arrived for training camp and successfully completed his physical.

Young players often have small report and pass bonuses, typically in the range of $2,000 to $5,000. The payouts can become significantly larger, however, with players such as Evan Johnson, Brandon Revenberg, Brandon Banks, Simoni Lawrence, and Taylor Loffler each due between $35,000 and $50,000.

The CFL’s most lucrative report and pass bonus belongs to B.C. Lions’ quarterback Mike Reilly, who is due $400,000 at the start of training camp. That bonus alone would account for over seven percent of the team’s salary cap in a normal eighteen-game season.

These bonuses could be a huge determining factor in how many veterans choose to report if a 2020 season goes ahead. Prorated salaries will be covered by the government but it’s unclear how or if roster bonuses will be paid out.

The league has cried poor since COVID-19 forced the postponement of the 2020 season with one owner going as far as to suggest the league could fold. It stands to reason that the CFL will try to diminish or eliminate player bonuses as part of ongoing emergency collective bargaining agreement negotiations.

The rumour mill is already spinning regarding a handful of veteran players who have told teammates they don’t plan to report if the season goes ahead. Brandon Banks announced on Sunday that he won’t play again until 2021.

If report and pass bonuses aren’t paid out, that number could increase dramatically.

The CFL is home to the most exciting brand of football on the planet. It’s a wide open game that allows elite athletes to make plays in space, while a fast-moving clock keeps the contest moving at a swift pace. It can’t be beat.

With that said, losing a number of star players will be virtually impossible for the league to overcome — especially this year.

The whole point of having a six-game season is to keep players together for a short time frame. Pre-season games are likely to be eliminated and training camp could be shortened.

It was already difficult for CFL teams to develop fresh talent in a normal year with training camp lasting just three weeks (NFL training camps last twice as long). With no pre-season games in 2020, it will be virtually impossible for teams to find replacements for veterans who choose not to report for a shortened season.

We all want the CFL to play in 2020. The campaign was supposed to begin over a month ago and summer hasn’t felt the same without football.

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that the league won’t look the same if the season goes ahead. Star players will be missing and their absence will be obvious.

TSN usually televised only a few pre-season games because the quality of play is relatively poor. Given the obstacles in place, it’s possible that the entire 2020 season would resemble a normal pre-season. Inexperienced players make mistakes as they learn on the fly, which would be happening routinely over the proposed six-game schedule.

There are a million questions surrounding the 2020 CFL season. One of few certainties is that if the campaign is played, the on-field product will be diminished from what fans have come to expect.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.