The Canadian Football League Players’ Association (CFLPA) struck a deal with the league on a new seven-year-long collective bargaining agreement on Wednesday night, bringing an end to the first CFL players’ strike in 48 years. However, B.C. Lions fullback David Mackie is voicing his displeasure around the proposed changes to the league’s ratio in the new CBA.
“There’s always going to be a concern when the ratio gets attacked,” the Lions’ CFLPA representative said frankly ahead of the team’s first practice Thursday. “Considering the first proposal on the table was that Canadians are basically eradicated from the starting lineup, that didn’t settle well with a lot of us and we’ve been fighting tooth and nail to protect the Canadian number.”
The league didn’t get their wish to eliminate Canadian players, but there will be amendments to the ratio coming in 2023. The number of national starters (ie. Canadians) will rise from seven to eight, but one of those players will be a “nationalized American,” defined as an American player who has been on the same team for three years or in the CFL for five.
Additionally, three more nationalized Americans will be permitted to sub in for true Canadian starters, provided that they do not play more than 49 percent of the total offensive or defensive snaps in a game.
On paper, it is a change that appears palatable to even the most fervent ratio advocates, but the potential for manipulation still exists. How the league plans to enforce the new rule and punish teams that might seek to abuse it is not yet clear and Mackie appears skeptical of the CFL’s intentions.
“It’s super unfortunate that every year we have to preach to make sure that that number stays the same and then we have to answer as to why we’re fighting for it when, personally, I believe the league should have to explain to us their position. If we’re going to ratify this seven-year deal, why don’t they just stand up and tell the players why they’re trying to get rid of Canadians?” said Mackie.
“Are we going to be unhappy regardless of what changes transpire? Yeah, of course. Unless that number goes up, I don’t think a single Canadian in the league will be happy.”
It remains unclear why the league seems desperate to get more Americans on the field at a time when the competition for their services has never been higher. Growing local is always good business, but the CFL continues to place its priorities elsewhere.
“I remember being a young kid watching Canadian stars in the game. That made me want to play collegiate football and collegiate football made me want to play professional football,” Mackie explained.
“It just sucks that ex-players or current players have to stand in front of the room and tell them that they are trying to reduce Canadian content when realistically, we’re trying to fight for Canadian content. We’re fighting tooth and nail and the league should have to stand up there next to us to explain their position on why they want to get rid of us.”
Union leadership was comfortable making some ratio concessions in order to benefit the membership as a whole, but the rank-and-file Canadian players will now have to weigh their situation against the bigger picture. For Mackie and his teammates, that will be a focus of conversation over the next few days.
“The ratio is something that’s always going to be a sensitive issue for our membership and it’s something that we can’t take lightly,” Mackie stressed. “We’ve got to make sure we understand and the players that are voting for this ratification fully understand the depth of the deal.”
While ratification votes are largely seen as a formality, Lions’ players are going through the proposed deal with a fine-tooth comb to make sure no details will be overlooked.
“We’re still investigating it as a group. The longer you have time to sit on any decision, let alone one of this importance and this magnitude, and especially with the length of the agreement that they want being seven years, we’ve had some pretty in-depth conversations. Not a lot of sleep happened last night to make sure that all the veteran guys were fully understanding of what this deal entails,” Mackie told the media before his team’s first practice.
“We’re still going to digest it today and make sure that we have a member of the bargaining committee [speak to us]. I wasn’t in those bargaining meetings, I’m just the messenger pigeon that makes sure everyone knows what’s going on. These next 24 hours are going to be vital to make sure that everyone knows every inch of this deal to make sure that we know exactly what we’re voting for.”
On many fronts, Mackie believes the deal on the table is a step in the right direction. Despite what he calls “hostile” and “aggressive” negotiating tactics from the league, something more akin to the true partnership that players have long desired ultimately emerged.
Increased injury coverage and a larger slice of the revenue pie are positive headlines for the players and rightfully so, but other segments of the deal have raised red flags for Mackie. Namely, it is the league’s insistence on altering the Canadian ratio that troubles the native of Jackson’s Point, Ont. and he’s not alone.