TORONTO - A tentative agreement has been reached in the CFL labour dispute, averting a possible players' strike.
The CFL and CFL Players' Association issued a joint statement Saturday night saying they've reached a tentative contract. The statement added the deal is pending ratification by players and the league's board of governors, "which will be scheduled as soon as possible."
"Further details will not be made public until these votes have taken place," it concluded.
A league source requesting anonymity said the CFL and union agreed to the deal Saturday after two days of bargaining with the help of a mediator. Then the CFLPA executive committee presented the deal to team reps during a four-plus hour conference call Saturday night.
The source said the agreement calls for a $5-million salary cap. Although the exact term of the deal wasn't immediately known, the source added the two sides had discussed a four-year contract early Saturday that called for cap increases of $50,000 annually.
However, after the league and union ended their formal talks in the afternoon, the source said two additional options were brought into play prior to the conference call with player reps: a contract covering five years or five plus a one-year option.
The CFLPA had initially wanted a $6.24-million cap before amending its demand to $5.2 million. Last year, the CFL salary cap was $4.4 million.
Players will also reportedly receive signing bonuses of $7,500 for veterans and $1,500 for rookies. The CFL minimum salary also increases $5,000 to $50,000, something the two sides had agreed to earlier.
The league did get a major concession from the union on the gross revenue formula that would trigger the renegotiation of the cap or entire collective agreement.
The players, who initially wanted the CBA to include revenue sharing, had called for the cap or entire agreement to be renegotiated if league revenues increased by more than $18 million — excluding the Grey Cup — in the third year of the deal. The CFL wanted that figure to be $27 million and the union ultimately agreed.
The source added the agreement also calls for the elimination of the option year on CFL contracts, excluding rookies, which the union had wanted. Also, the players' practice day goes from 4.5 hours daily to a maximum of six hours with just one padded practice a week during the season.
But that was of little solace to some players.
"There is no way we agreed to THAT," Calgary Stampeders receiver Maurice Price tweeted.
"How it works in the 21st century: Unions are dead," Calgary running back Jon Cornish, the CFL's outstanding player last year, said on his Twitter account.
The players appeared to be headed towards the picket line only a couple of days ago as no face-to-face meetings had been held since May 29, the day the previous agreement expired.
But the source said they began talking Friday with the help of a mediator and continued through the night exchanging proposals before reconvening Saturday.
The tentative agreement ends tumultuous negotiations, which began in February and broke down several times along the way.
Despite the ongoing negotiations, Calgary and Edmonton Eskimos players held their respective strike votes Saturday. Players on the other seven clubs had cast their ballots already and were in a legal strike position heading into the weekend.
The union was expected to launch a work stoppage Sunday, threatening an exhibition game Monday night between the Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The game will now go ahead.
If the agreement is ratified, the regular season will kick off June 26 as scheduled with Toronto visiting Winnipeg again.
Getting a new collective agreement in place is crucial for the league, which is entering the first year of a new five-year television agreement with TSN that's reportedly worth an average of $42 million a year.
But games had to be played for the league — and ultimately its teams — to receive the money. The deal will reportedly net clubs an extra $2.75-million in revenue.
The increased cap provides some financial gains for players, who wouldn't have received their game cheques if on strike.
The start of the season also allows the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to move into their new stadium and the CFL to celebrate the return of Ottawa to the league. The expansion Redblacks will also be playing in a refurbished facility in the Canadian capital.