Enough was enough for Brian Ramsay and members of the CFL Players’ Association on Thursday.
Ramsay, the CFLPA’s executive director, and a host of CFL players took to Twitter to voice their displeasure with the state of talks between the league and CFLPA regarding an abbreviated 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It just shows the frustration that’s been built up within the players over the last number of weeks when they haven’t simply been provided with information,” Ramsay said in a telephone interview. ”We’ve got players who are trying to buy groceries and pay rent and mortgages like many workers across Canada and they haven’t been provided direction.
“We’ve got players who’ve been in this league 10-plus years and they haven’t heard from their teams yet. That’s just not a fair way to treat people.”
CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie has often stated talks between the two sides have been ongoing as they work on the details of staging a shortened 2020 campaign. But Ramsay painted an entirely different picture Thursday, tweeting the union has received no direction from the league about the ‘20 season and has waited 10 weeks for information.
Ramsay said the barrage of social media posts wasn’t a union initiative.
“Not at all,” he said. “The problem we have right now is every time we turn, it seems we’re getting surprised by the CFL.
“Whether it’s going to government, setting return-to-play protocols, different things like that. I look at the decisions being made or even the lack thereof by the CFL and I’d say that has been slowly forcing away our members already.”
The players’ reaction comes more than a month after Ambrosie was criticized by several Members of Parliament for not including the players in the league’s request for financial assistance from the federal government.
Ramsay also said when the CFL announced it was allowing teams to reopen their practice facilities, the union was consulted after the fact.
At a time when the NBA, Major League Soccer and NHL have all announced plans to return, the CFL remains in limbo for 2020. And on Thursday — when the ‘20 regular season was scheduled to kick off — players and fans alike had no idea about when, or if, professional football would return in Canada.
“@CFL @CFLPA @RandyAmbosie can we please get a set date on when a decision will be made?” Montreal Alouettes quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. tweeted. ”I got kids Mann.”
Added Ottawa Redblacks kicker-punter Richie Leone: “What a freaking joke man. All that brain power at the CFL can’t come up with anything? Genuinely sad and disturbed. @RandyAmbrosie cmon bro call me. Call someone.”
Ambrosie said Thursday he understands the uneasiness from players.
“To anyone who’s feeling frustrated by the time it’s taking to reach these conclusions, I’d tell you I feel your pain,” Ambrosie said in an interview. “I’d love nothing more than to have all the answers that I need today and make a decision and proclamation.
“I do believe everyone knows our situation is complicated, I believe everyone wants us to do the right thing. I’m not going to give up on them and I hope they won’t give up on us. I’d rather make the right decision than a quick one.”
The CFL and CFLPA have had an acrimonious relationship since January 2018 when — roughly a year before the two were to start contract talks — the league told clubs to stop paying players’ off-season bonuses until a new deal was reached.
Although the two sides agreed on a three-year CBA in May 2019, it came after the union held a strike vote and told players not to report to training camps without a signed agreement.
“Our players don’t forget that leading up to bargaining, the league had withheld their bonuses,” Ramsay said. “No doubt we’re in different circumstances going through a pandemic but in terms of the treatment, or lack of treatment, our players are getting right now, I’d say this relationship has remained consistent.
“The direction we’ve had from our players since this started, and what we’ve said repeatedly, was to try and find a way to play a safe, partial, whatever length is possible, 2020 season. But there’s a lot to talk about.”
Ambrosie announced last month the earliest the league would begin an abbreviated ‘20 season would be September. But he also stated a cancelled campaign remains possible due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Following Ambrosie’s announcement, Sportsnet reported there wasn’t unanimous support among CFL teams to play a shortened season. It said at least two privately-owned franchises weren’t totally on board with the idea.
When asked Thursday if all nine clubs were eager to play a shortened campaign, Ambrosie answered the question carefully.
“What I’d say is every one of our teams is in their own unique situation,” he said. “One of the jobs that it takes to lead the league is to be able to respect everyone’s circumstances being unique to them and then trying to find a way to bring everyone together.
“The best way to answer the question is to tell you every single member of our board of governors, every single team president is committed to the great future of the CFL. How we get there is harder but I’m working with some of the most remarkable Canadians you could hope for and I believe in the end we’ll come up with an answer that will make sense for everybody.”
During his testimony last month before a House of Commons committee on finance, Ambrosie said CFL teams collectively lost about $20 million in 2019. Those losses were shouldered by the league’s six privately-owned clubs as the three community-owned franchises have annually posted operating profits.
So the question facing some of the privately-owned clubs is whether they’d lose less being dormant than they would playing a shortened season, with a strong possibility of limited or no fans.
Wade Miller, the president of the reigning Grey Cup-champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers, has said his club could lose up to $10 million if the ‘20 season is lost.
Ambrosie said he’s no closer to reaching a drop-dead date regarding when the CFL must decide whether or not to have a 2020 season. But he does feel headway is being made towards that end.
“I do feel like we’re making real progress in doing the analysis on what the one or two most likely scenarios are for getting back to play,” he said. “I think, frankly, in order to ultimately decide a drop-dead date you have to know kind of what you’re evaluating against.
“Once we get to the one or two things that we’re absolutely certain are within the realm of possibilities, I think that’s going to take us closer to a decision day and a drop-dead date.”
Ambrosie said the CFL has some time before reaching a drop-dead date.
“I think you have to use time as a tool and understand time,” he said. “That basically means you have to look at it from a variety of perspectives (and) don’t rush to make a decision before you’re ready to make it.
“That suggests you have to be thorough and thoughtful and not rush to judgement but also recognize we’re not dealing with an infinite amount of time. We’re hearing this from our fans, we’re hearing this from our partners where people are talking about their willingness to accept it’s going to be a different kind of season and we’re trying to use that to our advantage.”
The subject of hub cities has been at the forefront of the CFL discussion for weeks. While Ambrosie said the league has spoken to potential cities, he wouldn’t specifically say which ones and stopped well short of saying hubs present the best options for a 2020 season.
“It’s certainly an option and that’s at the heart of some of the analysis that’s being done,” he said. ”It has in some respects the benefit of potentially creating a more controlled environment for our players, coaches, football operations staff and everybody that will have to be part of the game.”
The league’s three-part proposal to the federal government called for $30 million immediately, additional monies for an abbreviated season and up to $120 million more in the event of a cancelled season.
Ambrosie said the CFL continues to examine the various programs established by the federal government.
“Continued review of the programs they’ve created,” he said. “As we’re investigating these programs, the government is in real time trying to fill in some of the blanks.
“I think the work we’re doing is work with government to understand the programs and see which ones, if any, are appropriate for us.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 11, 2020.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press