TORONTO — Winnipeg Blue Bombers president Wade Miller came to the defence of embattled CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie on Thursday.
Ambrosie has come under heavy criticism recently from CFL players, the CFL Players’ Association and league football operations personnel. Last week, the union and a host of players took to social media to voice their displeasure with Ambrosie regarding the state of talks between the two sides on an abbreviated 2020 season.
Both Brian Ramsay, the union’s executive director, and players expressed frustration about the lack of information and direction being provided by the league.
Ambrosie has stated the earliest the ‘20 season would begin is September. But he’s also said a cancelled campaign remains an option due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ambrosie came under fire again Monday when he imposed a 20 per cent reduction to the football operations cap of all nine CFL teams. The cap would fall from $2.59 million to about $2 million for the 2021 season.
“I think it’s important that as a league we take a look and say, ‘COVID has really impacted everybody and it’s going to impact the CFL and all the teams,” Miller said. ”Recently we had to make adjustments to our non-football player cap at 20 per cent.
“But they’re not alone because everybody throughout the organization is being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, like every other industry.”
Miller called the CFLPA’s criticism of Ambrosie “unfair.” Ambrosie issued a lengthy statement Thursday, divulging he “and every member of the CFL’s executive team took a 20 per cent pay cut in April.”
“We didn’t put out a press release about that as a league but that’s what was done,” said Miller, a former Bombers player. ”Throughout every team’s organization there’ve been reductions in salaries, staff positions have been eliminated, budgets decreased throughout the business operation … all of these things are going on to get our league and teams through this and get our players back on the field.
“We really need (CFLPA) to grasp the seriousness of the situation facing the league and our teams. We’re a gate-driven league and that’s been taken right away now because of COVID and the public health concerns, which we fully understand.
“It’s absolutely unfair to go at our commissioner and suggest we’re not working hard to find a recovery plan to get back to 2020 and the future. Just absolutely inaccurate and they’ve been engaged through this process.”
And Miller offered examples of that.
“Last week collectively working with the Players’ Association, we sent a letter from the CFL to the federal government urging them to change wage subsidy so our CFL players would be fully eligible for that program,” he said. ”I was also on a call Monday night with our medical committee that their executive director (Ramsay) was a part of … and the invites were (made) in early June.
“It’s disheartening to see and we all need to figure this out together. This is an extremely tough time for our players and their families, I know that. I get up every day, so does everybody else in senior leadership and the league, asking, ‘How can we find a way to get our players on the field in 2020 in a safe way and back to their livelihood.’ That’s something we’re working really hard at.”
Miller said the two sides haven’t met to begin discussions on amending the current collective bargaining agreement to cover off an abbreviated season. But he added the union was also informed as to why.
A CFL source said Thursday the league has formally invited the union to begin discussions on those amendments. The source was granted anonymity because the league has not formally announced the invitation.
“We haven’t started yet because, as we’ve told the PA, we need to ensure that we’re ready to have those discussions,” he said. “But they’re very aware of the issues that we believe we need to be discussing.
“We’ve got to make sure it’s safe for our players and financially viable for our league. That’s the work that’s going on, the teams in the league are working extremely hard to do that.
“We told them we can bring it forward once we have a full-detailed proposal of what the 2020 season can look like and to consider the different scenarios that can make financial sense for us. That takes time. Unfortunately we don’t have the better answer but nor do other leagues.”
Miller said he’s found fans — particularly those in Winnipeg — to be supportive of the league’s efforts during the current crisis.
“Our fans have been extremely supportive,” he said. “Our season-ticket members have been overwhelmingly supportive in Winnipeg and across the country, along with our corporate partners.
“We need to do this all together and make it happen. It’s a tough time and I can fully appreciate why players are frustrated. Absolutely. You know what, though? So is everybody. But we’re going to find a way to come out of this and make our league stronger going on 2021.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 18, 2020.
The Canadian Press