CFL calls Canadian players, veteran Americans the ‘lifeblood’ of the league after attempt to eliminate starter ratio

Photo courtesy: CFL

The Canadian Football League is pushing back against a report that they want to eliminate the Canadian ratio as part of collective bargaining negotiations with the players’ association.

“Canadian players are the lifeblood of the CFL game, along with the veteran American players who make a career here,” the league said in a statement. “That will not change.”

On Thursday, the CFLPA sent a memo to the players saying they had walked away from negotiations after refusing an ultimatum by the league to guarantee players would travel to training camp even if a strike was imminent.

The memo included a number of proposals by the CFL currently on the table that the union was concerned with, including a ten-year collective bargaining agreement “with zero increases in the cap” and the “full elimination of the Canadian ratio and veteran American ratio, as well as a reduction of Canadians on the roster.”

The news sparked massive backlash from fans and players on Thursday night, prompting the league to hit the public relations trail. TSN insider Dave Naylor pre-empted the CFL’s own statement with a report supposedly providing clarity on the CFLPA’s memo.

“According to sources “Full elimination of the Canadian ratio and Veteran American Ratio” in the CFLPA memo to members is in reference to coaches being allowed to deploy players in-game without restrictions, and not the elimination of Canadians from the roster,” Naylor tweeted.

“Have long believed league is seeking to reduce number of true Canadian starters to allow for naturalized Canadians and more roster flexibility for coaches. Would be surprised if league’s goal is to reduce the number to zero, even if that’s what’s on the table at this point.”

While not as dramatic as the elimination of Canadian players entirely, removing the starting ratio in-game could have a significant effect on the way in which they are employed.

After the CFL instituted veteran American status ahead of the 2021 season and allowed those players to substitute for an injured Canadian, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats were accused of exploiting the rule by providing false national starters. Should the number of Canadians on a team get reduced, that would only open up the capacity to abuse this rule even more and could drastically shrink the number of homegrown players on the field for offence and defence.

That also does little to address the CFLPA’s myriad of other concerns, most importantly the lack of financial increases in a long-term deal.

The existing collective agreement between the CFL and players’ association was ratified in 2019 and amended prior to the 2021 season to help facilitate a safe return under pandemic restrictions. The deal is set to expire on May 14, with the two sides not expected to reconvene until Wednesday.

On Monday, CFLPA membership voted 95 percent in favour of giving the union permission to strike should an agreement not be reached before training camp. The vote is part of the standard process of collective bargaining, but provides considerable pressure as the deadline looms.

Players took a massive financial hit over the course of the pandemic but appeared to be on more trusting footing with the league than in years past, in part due to increased financial transparency. However, the league’s desire to reduce the Canadian ratio and unwillingness to provide financial guarantees has halted negotiations entirely.