Frustrated Bombers say relationship with CFL must improve

First-time fatherhood, Zach Collaros reports, has been “wonderful.”

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback acknowledges most of the rest of 2020 has been something less.

Collaros says the cancellation of the CFL season hit him like a quarterback sack on the last play of a tough loss.

“I wasn’t as optimistic as I guess some guys were that this was all going to work out,” Collaros said, Tuesday. “No matter what, once there’s some finality to something, it’s disappointing for sure, and it kind of drains you. Looking forward to what the next step is, though.”

Collaros and Bomber linebacker Adam Bighill were part of a media conference call set up by the Bombers, a far cry from the road trip to Calgary they were supposed to be getting ready for if hadn’t been for the unexpected appearance of COVID-19.

That even a compressed season had to be scuttled, and that it took so long for a final answer, wasn’t sitting well with either one. They both fired the ball of blame in the general direction of CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie and league governors.

“Players are disappointed that we’ve really gotten strung along so far without a lot of information,” Bighill said. “We really didn’t start the negotiations early enough. We didn’t get to the table in March and start drafting our plans together. The CFL went to the government without us, asking for money. That didn’t help our cause. We went asking for money with no plan.

“There just has to be a better working relationship, where we’re truly partners. ‘Cause right now we haven’t been treated as partners.”

Ambrosie’s initial request for a bailout was at first rebuffed by politicians who didn’t see the CFL Players Association involved or a proper business plan. By the time the league sat down with the players, valuable time had been lost.

This past weekend, all hope was lost when the federal government turned down the league’s last-ditch request for an interest-free loan of $30 million.

“It’s kind of a microcosm of how this pandemic has been handled from leadership in North America,” Collaros said. “The transparency’s not there. The communication hasn’t been great. That needs to be improved if 2021 is going to be successful.”

Collaros and Bighill were gung-ho to play the proposed six-game season, the quarterback willing to leave his wife and newborn daughter behind in Aurora, Ont., to live a bubble life in the hub city of Winnipeg.

“We were aligned and on the same page that I was going to play,” he said. “You put a lot of work in to get ready for the season, physically and mentally. So to have that taken away, and to be strung along for months and months and months was not fun.

“But it’s a different time with this pandemic. Everything’s been affected. We’re definitely not in the minority there.”

Ambrosie is saying all the right things about wanting to come back better and stronger, and wanting a better relationship with the players union.

Bighill says that might be one sliver of light to emerge from the dark sky hovering over the league.

“Randy has said multiple times the business model is broken. So how do we fix it?” Bighill said. “Those are things that need to be addressed. We had time to do that. So I would hope that this situation has highlighted the need for these kinds of conversations and the need for these kinds of partnerships to be strengthened and get better, so we can fix and improve whatever is not working.”

The shutdown has forced players to think about life after football, something Bighill had already begun by getting into the financial services field.

Collaros says he has some opportunities south of the border, but wants to square away his permanent residency in Canada, first.

Both players are well-established veterans with hefty contracts, so they’re in better shape than many of their colleagues.

“The disappointing thing is how guys were strung along,” Collaros said. “A lot of younger guys who haven’t made a good salary for a long time and have families and have mouths to feed. You can definitely feel the frustration, talking to teammates, talking to old teammates.”

At least they now have an answer, disheartening as it is.

And something to shoot for.

“I don’t know if you win the championship in 2019 and then in 2021 if that counts as back-to-back,” Collaros said. “But that’ll be our goal. And man, it’s really disappointing not being able to get on the field and defend that title this year. We’ll have to wait, I guess, however much longer this is going to last, to do that.”
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Bighill: Don’t touch my quarterback

There’s talk of a restructured CFL coming out of the pandemic, and that’s probably code for “downsized.”
In costs, if not the number of teams.
One area that could be targetted for savings is the salaries of quarterbacks, which go as high as Mike Reilly’s annual $725,000 hit in B.C.
Collaros, who signed a two-year deal worth just under $1 million after leading the Bombers to the Grey Cup, says he’s open to that discussion.
Not so fast, says his teammate, linebacker Adam Bighill.
“If you look at where do we need to cut spending, I wouldn’t say players are the first person you need to look at,” Bighill said, pointing out players salaries account for just 30 percent of league expenses, far less than in other leagues. “I don’t think Zach or any quarterback should look at taking a pay cut. Teams should spend appropriately, as always. Where in the business model is spending going? Administration. Those things need to be looked at.”
The league has already instituted reductions to coaching staffs.
Given the financial imbalance from team to team,
Bighill wonders if a centrally-owned CFL might be a solution.
“We’re missing harmony across the league,” he said. “Owners and public teams are in different positions, in different provinces with their different situations. It might be best that the CFL is owned by one entity, I don’t know.”

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