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Labour uncertainty boosting rookie camp costs for CFL general managers

TORONTO — Contract talks between the CFL Players' Association and CFL are costing players plenty of money. But it could also increase the cost of doing business for the league's nine teams.

The CFL and its players will return to the bargaining table Monday and Tuesday in Toronto. It will be their first face-to-face meeting since April 9.

The delay has drawn the ire of many CFL players, mostly because the league has instructed teams not to pay off-season bonuses until after a new collective bargaining agreement has been ratified. The current deal is scheduled to expire May 18.

Training camps are slated to open the following day but the CFLPA has instructed its players to not report if a new CBA hasn't been reached by then. The union has also said it doesn't intend to work past May 18 unless the sides agree to a new deal.

But the status of rookie camps, scheduled to begin May 15, is bothering some CFL general managers. The CFLPA hasn't told its players not to report, which isn't surprising given the camps open within the timeframe of the existing CBA. That also suggests the union is adhering to the various provincial labour laws.

However, given the state of contract talks between the league and union — the two sides are still negotiating non-monetary matters — and the annual Canadian college draft being held May 2, some GMs are finding it much more costly arranging airfares now for prospects to attend scheduled rookie camps instead of having had the luxury of doing so months ago when rates were a lot cheaper.

A CFL spokesman said Tuesday the plan is for rookie camps to ahead as scheduled. However, the uncertainty of the league's labour situation has caused some teams to play a waiting game when it comes to purchasing airplane tickets.

"The price of airline tickets is higher with shorter notice and you can't go get players airline tickets at this point," said a CFL GM.

However, another CFL general manager said this circumstance is really nothing new given teams faced a similar situation in 2014 when the league and union were last involved in CBA talks.

"Every day that goes by isn't necessarily a good thing," the GM said. "But in the CFL you've got to be able to adjust and make things happen on the fly.

"We try to (book travel arrangements) sooner than later to try to get the best fares. It doesn't always play out that way but that's the risk you take, right? For now, we're going to be patient and see how things play out. It could impact the bottom line but it's not something you can worry about. That's just what we're dealing with."

Another concern, too, is just how many players will actually attend. That's because once a player signs a CFL contract he automatically becomes a member of the CFLPA. The dilemma facing a rookie is trying to do right by the union while being able to take full advantage of an opportunity to play pro football.

Also, traditionally a CFL team's starting and backup quarterbacks report to rookie camp to get a head start on their season preparation. The expectation is attendance this year for the veterans will be voluntary.

Still, the second general manager downplayed the impact contract talks are having on his day-to-day responsibilities.

"The timing might be off a little bit and dollars may go up a bit," he said. "Other than that, it might change the order of what things you do and you might be doing more preparation now for the season than stuff that deals with rookie camp.

"Let's just hope there's an agreement (before May 15) and we don't have to worry about all of this."

Both CFL officials were granted anonymity due to a league directive. Personnel commenting publicly about anything to do with CBA talks will face repercussions under the rules.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press