It is the kind of news that would make the late Toronto Sun sports columnist and CFL supporter Jim Hunt roll over in his grave. The idea of some kind of work stoppage in the Canadian Football League whether it is the players going on strike or the league locking them out is a thought that many fans are finding hard to believe. But it may become a reality. I won’t go into the fact that money is the root of this dispute. Instead, I’ll tell you why the CFL is due for a work stoppage.
The CFL is no longer a league struggling to hold its head above water. Ever since TSN took over as the sole rights holder, more games are being seen on TV than ever before. Coupled that with great marketing and teams emphasising defence and ball possession in what was before a pass-happy league have resulted in more fans coming to games. There is a strong presence in Montreal and Vancouver, a new stadium in Hamilton and one coming in Regina, and a new team in Ottawa. Even in NFL-obsessed Toronto, there has been a lot of more talk about the Argonauts over the last decade. But popularity has its price. It was perhaps no coincidence that the NHL’s history of labour unrest began when the league got more exposure in the US after Wayne Gretzky’s arrival in Los Angeles in 1988. 3 years later, the NHL went through its first player’s strike.
People seem to forget that labour laws both in Canada and the US apply to everyone. It may not have been originally drafted for multi-millionaire athletes but that is the beauty of the rule of law, no one is exempt. Professional athletes are by definition employees. They can unionize and take advantage of the rules laid out by labour relations boards. People might find that hard to swallow but that is how business works.
There was a player’s strike in the CFL during training camp in 1974 but that did not result in any cancellation of regular season games. This one might be different. I was chatting with former Tiger-Cat Linebacker Lance Trumble one evening. He, like many CFL fans, are following this development closely. Trumble told me that he hopes there is a settlement but thinks the season may not start on time. Both sides are working hard to get an agreement in place but, like the game itself, they are at the mercy of the clock. And there is not much time left before the start of the season on June 26th.