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Despite cancellation of season, CFL and CFLPA have much to discuss

There'll be no football in 2020 but the CFL and CFL Players' Association still have plenty to discuss.

And that includes how to allow players under contract to CFL teams the ability to sign elsewhere — most notably the NFL — if the opportunity arises. On Monday, the CFL cancelled its 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The focus right now for us on a few certain things and one of them is ensuring if there's an ability for our players to receive some form of payment this year," Brian Ramsay, the CFLPA's executive director, said Monday during a conference call. "They should be able to do that if they have an opportunity."

While the pandemic has forced football leagues — pro and collegiate — to suspend operations this year, the NFL is planning to play a full regular season. However, 66 players have currently opted out of participating in the 2020 campaign, which could create opportunity for some CFL players to sign deals south of the border and have a chance to earn a football paycheque, either on the active roster or on the practice squad.

While there's no shortage of collegiate players available, the advantage a CFL player has is pro experience, a fact not lost upon NFL personnel people.

The NFL's rookie minimum salary this season is US$610,000 compared to $65,000 for an entire 18-game CFL campaign. This year, the CFL was looking at staging a six-game regular season in Winnipeg, its tentative hub city.

And players on NFL practice rosters receive at least US$8,000 per week.

Commissioner Randy Ambrosie said the CFL is amendable to doing what it can to help its players.

"Where we can do something we will," he said. "We're going to be committed to working towards good outcomes, the best possible outcomes we can have with out players.

"That's not going to mean we're going to be able to do everything but we're certainly going to go into this with a real positive spirit."

Something else that will be on the CFL-CFLPA radar will be the current collective bargaining agreement, which is slated to expire after the 2021 season. But union president Solomon Elimimian said the two sides covered a lot of ground this time around during talks to amend the agreement for a shortened '20 season.

"Whether we deal with '21 when it comes or after the '21 season I think there's hope there that we can work together," Elimimian said. "Obviously the relationship between the players and the league needs to be one where the players feel appreciated.

"Everyone wants to the league to reach its full potential. The partnership has to be one that's very genuine and the players have to feel part of that. If that happens, the sky is the limit."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 17, 2020.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press