The Canadian Football League will never be the same.
The new salary management system announced yesterday - which includes a 14-point plan - means the league will experience radical changes in the next two years.
As expected, a $3.8-million salary cap is the highlight of the system - but the league's board of governors is giving the clubs a one-year grace period before strict over-spending penalties become reality.
"The new system represents a fundamental change in operations and member clubs require a season to effectively comply with all aspects of the new rules," said Ted Hellard, a Calgary Stampeder owner and the chair of the SMS committee. "It's pretty unrealistic to say to a club, 'Sorry that you have signed those (player contracts already this year) but we're going to implement a system.' "
Based on the blueprint unveiled yesterday, every team will report every player's salary - plus side deals - to the league's head office with the intent of staying under $3.8 million in 2006. The teams will also be subject to visits and audits by compliance officers.
But there is nothing stopping a team from spending $300,000 over the cap this season.
The media skeptics have jumped out of the woodwork to argue that fact.
Although former player and coach Tom Wilkinson believes the cap is a good idea, he isn't sure all teams will abide to it in 2006.
"Because there's a year to get to the cap, some teams might not cut all the way down."
HARD TIME OVERSPENDING
But Hellard believes teams will have a hard time overspending this year and then trying to comply in 2007.
"I think there's a practicality issue," he explained. "It's not just, 'Gee, I'll go over $300,000 this year and I'll have no trouble getting back next year.' Most of the contracts are multi-year and escalating."
The Edmonton Eskimos were over $3.8-million last year. Speculation indicates the team spent nearly $4.1 million.
"We're going to have our homework to do to get down," said Edmonton COO Rick LeLacheur. "We had a unique year last year...50% of our roster was new players so we had a rather high signing bonus year. The Eskimos - like every other team - might (now) see from time to time some cap casualties."
When penalties start in 2007, any team spending less than $100,000 over the cap will be fined on a dollar-to-dollar ratio.
The ratio becomes 2-1 when a team is $100,000-$300,000 over. It also losses the first draft pick. If a team is over by more than $300,000, it's a 3-1 ratio plus two picks.
So, a team over by $500,000 would be hit with a $1.1-million fine and lose two draft choices from the following year.
The remaining 13 SMS points will be implemented this year, meaning the active roster will increase and the practice roster will change.
Teams will now have a 46-man roster, with 42 allowed to dress. The other four spots will be for healthy scratches or slightly injured players.
The practice roster will be renamed the development roster and will feature seven players.
The SMS also features:
- A password protected database of all player salaries that can be accessed by teams
- A four-game injury reserve list replacing the one-game injury section
- Teams can sign 75 players in the off-season but must be down to 68 by training camp
- Changes to the rules declaring the active roster every week
- Stricter rules for lifting players from competing practice rosters
- An earlier trade deadline
Seven of the nine clubs approved the new plan, with Montreal and Vancouver believed to be the opponents.
With six votes needed to pass, some thought Hamilton and Edmonton would oppose. But the Green and Gold voted in favour.
'ALWAYS GOING BANKRUPT'
"If salary levels get carried away even the Eskimos couldn't compete," said LeLacheur.
"If all of a sudden these (private owners) with lots of money decide to bump the salaries up $2 million or $3 million, the Eskimos are in a pretty substantial loss position.
"Secondly, you need somebody to play against. If teams are always going bankrupt eventually you might not find owners."