Salary-cap conundrum

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

The man who first slapped a cap on the heads of CFL owners 20 years ago thinks the very term creates misconceptions within the league.

Doug Mitchell was CFL commissioner for five seasons (1984-89) and is part of the Stampeders' new ownership group and executive committee. He says the controversial and somewhat mysterious $2.6-million cap employed today is a guideline for team spending, not a concrete number with dire consequences for clubs exceeding it.

"I don't think I would even call it a salary cap," Mitchell says. "It's a competitive balance guideline, or something like that. People think of a salary cap as, 'If you go over that, I'm going to shoot you.'

"I think we all need to agree on how we can best be competitive. One of the other things, and I give the league a lot of credit for this, is the board of governors is talking about a long-term plan -- how to increase revenues to ensure that all nine clubs are financially viable.

"That's as important to the owners as it is to the players."

Mitchell's assessment comes just days after B.C. Lions owner David Braley told a Vancouver newspaper the cap is a spending floor, not a ceiling, referring to it as "a target" and "a minimum."

Accusations from some CFL cities about the Stampeders' salaries were fuelled in recent weeks by the signing of free-agent quarterback Henry Burris and receiver Jeremaine Copeland.

Concealing actual salary figures exacerbates the problem as some players publicly inflate their own contract numbers, heightening the paranoia within the league with regards to cap cheating.

'Under the table' side deals not registered with the league can also upset the balance of power.

While many CFL fans, especially in smaller markets, are miffed by what they deem wild spending sprees by deep-pocketed owners, Mitchell rushes to his own club's defence.

"The bottom line is we're going to be one of the average teams from a payroll standpoint," the Calgary lawyer insists, adding the club is sticking to its spending guidelines while trying to rebuild the franchise into an attractive draw for players and fans.

Mitchell also points out the Stamps will actually be spending less on quarterbacks this season than had they retained Khari Jones and Marcus Crandell, who were both released, making room for Burris.

"A lot of it has to do with recruitment and retaining people," Mitchell says, noting three consecutive CFL seasons without a playoff berth forces the Stampeders to become competitive, and quickly.

"You have to have a team that players want to play for, not a team where players want to develop themselves and then leave. It's pretty important to have a first-class organization to attract people and then retain them.

"The fans in Calgary have been great over the years but it's incumbent upon us as owners to make sure we are competitive. I think the Flames learned that after seven years out of the NHL playoffs by turning it around and being competitive (in 2003-04)."

Mitchell's introduction of the salary cap as commissioner was also under considerably different circumstances in 1985. At the time, the CFL had enjoyed fat TV contracts, swollen by exceedingly high advertising money from beer companies.

Mitchell, meanwhile, was cautioning the clubs the tap would soon dry up, necessitating spending guidelines.

"The league was worried about clubs getting into financial trouble where now it is more an issue of maintaining competitive balance," Mitchell explains.

"The salary cap was introduced because we were coming off a very significant television contract and we had been the beneficiaries of a beer war and we knew that it wasn't going to continue.

"It was all part of the NHL fight in those days where Molson and Carling were fighting over the NHL rights, then got involved in the same scrap over the CFL."


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