CFL Needs to Put a Cap on Its Success

By Jason Menard

For the Canadian Football League to remain viable for years to come, the owners have to come to their senses and realize that long-term prosperity comes from putting a cap on their success.

The CFL hasn’t been this healthy for years, which is a remarkable recovery for a league that just a decade ago arguably was on life support. Solid ownership across the league has transformed shaky franchises into cornerstones for the league. New ownership groups in Hamilton and Ottawa offer hope – and deep pockets – to build for the future. Heck, even in Toronto, despite its terrible venue and fourth-sport status, the Argonauts are starting to draw.

And while the league’s owners may be content to keep riding the gravy train, they have to realize that unless someone’s controlling the direction and keeping the speed regulated, they could end up crashing in the not-too-distant future.

The CFL is plagued by two problems: competitive balance and financial stability. However, the two are inexorably intertwined – or at least the latter directly impacts the former. Right now the number $2.6 million is floated around – but in true CFLian fashion, there’s not even a consensus as to whether that’s a cap, a suggested competitive balance threshold, or just a proposed spending guideline to use as a starting point.

As such, some teams adhere to the $2.6 number religiously, while other franchises find ways around the number by offering personal service contracts, guaranteeing ancillary income through radio or television shows, or finding other perks to inflate the value of a contract without it showing up on the team’s payroll.

In the end, the fans lose. Certain teams are able to spend seemingly at will to stock their rosters, while other clubs have to scrimp and save – and even in an eight-team league there are franchises that right now have no hope of raising the Grey Cup.

A hard cap just makes sense for this league. And that’s why the Board of Governors should leap at the suggestion when and if Commissioner Tom Wright brings it to the table at the league meetings in Phoenix.

By enforcing a hard cap across the clubs, you’re ensuring a level playing field and curbing the inflationary impact that inflated salaries can have on the league’s finances. And, if some form of revenue sharing is not included in the formula, then those teams with the extra finances can leverage that advantage for their most important customers – the fans.

Extra money that would have been diverted into payroll could instead be funneled into stadium improvements, enhancing the fan experience, and more aggressive sales and marketing plans. And for a league that’s driven by gate revenue, a salary cap offers owners the security of a defined expenditure amount around which they can budget accordingly.

And what the existence of a stable cap could mean is the addition of franchises to a league built on a solid foundation. Instead of the haphazard, grab-the-American-money-while-you-can expansion orgy of times past, a hard cap could entice investors from other parts of Canada who are looking to get into the league. The league has long floated the trial balloon of franchises in Quebec City and somewhere in the Atlantic provinces. A cap could make these dreams a reality.

By putting a cap on its current success, the league could open an opportunity for even greater prosperity in the future. Think of the possibilities of a league that stretches ad mare usque ad mare. Imagine the instant rivalry forged between the Montreal Alouettes and a new Quebec City-based franchise. Think of the potential revenue that can be exploited by those football-mad Maritimers who have shown so much support for the university game.

And, for the players, think of the extra guaranteed jobs. A cap may put a ceiling on their immediate earnings, but it could allow for the creation of extra positions – either through new franchises, or more immediately through the addition of another import and non-import roster spot.

Enforcement is always a question, but those that exceed the salary cap could face an immediate loss of a draft pick in the Canadian amateur draft. More than the imports, Canadian players are the lifeblood of any successful franchise due to the existence of the Canadian player ratio – so the threat of losing out on young Canuck talent should be enough to keep even the most adventurous owner in line.

The idea of a hard cap just makes too much sense for the league – let’s just hope the owners don’t drop the ball on this one.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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