Wednesday 7 April 2010

The Salary Cap

News came out today that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers exceeded the CFL salary cap (officially called the Salary Management System or SMS) in 2009, so I figured now would be as good a time as any to discuss the complex issue of the salary cap in the CFL.

The Canadian Football League's SMS isn't the most difficult thing to understand, and the summary of it on their website does a good job of giving the fans the basics of what the SMS is. Unlike in the NFL or NHL, this isn't a "hard cap," meaning teams can go over it, but will incur a penalty for doing so. In the CFL, teams risk fines and the loss of draft picks depending on the amount by which they go over the cap, which is currently set at $4.2 million/team.

CFL teams employ 46 players on game day, 42 players and 4 reserves. That comes out to about $85,000/player on average. With star players (mostly QBs) making upwards of $300,000-400,000/year, that significantly shrinks the amount that the other 45 players earn and artificially inflates the average. That's not to say that the best players shouldn't be making the most money; I'm just pointing out that not every player makes $85,000/year and that the average is slightly misleading.

I think on the whole the SMS has been good for the CFL. Gone are the days when teams would circumvent the cap (like when the Argos reportedly signed Doug Flutie to a $2 million/year contract in 1996) and not have to worry because there were no ramifications for doing so. Now teams have to take finances into account should they attempt to pursue a player.

The SMS has also brought parity to the CFL. Almost every fan of every team at the start of every season thinks that their team has a chance to win it all. Before, when teams could parachute the best players in, that wasn't always the case. The richest clubs signed the best players, like what currently occurs in Major League Baseball with the New York Yankees. I don't know about anyone else, but I'm glad that is now not the case.

With all the teams playing by the same rules, and with ramifications for those that don't, the CFL has become a better league. But that's not to say the system is perfect. While taking away draft picks for violators is a good thing, teams do tend to stock their team with American free agents who are not CFL Draft eligible. Maybe taking away some of the team's negotiation-list slots would also prevent teams from going over the cap.

Once again I think the CFL has struck the right balance between fair and stern, showing once again that it may be the best pro sports league in North America.

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