Published on July 4, 2010 2:30 PM by dbo.
The CFL introduced a performance enhancing drug testing policy with the CBA signed in June and it has received mostly praise with identification of policy components that differ from other league policies. Some have chosen to attack the whole policy as falling short and another failure of the CFL head office. I’ll debate these arguments from those who expect the ideal and can never be satisfied. This policy is a leap ahead for the CFL and provides an environment for changes to increase its “teeth” in the future.
I’ll admit that for those that want severe punishments (lifetime bans?) for first positive tests of performance enhancing or illegal drugs, this policy is not for you.
The teeth of the deal:
Paul Friesen, though supportive of it, discounts the off-season testing as not possible because of the widely dispersed nature of CFL players. Reporters actually performing a little journalism found that players will receive 24-hours notice, none of the substances on the banned list can be eliminated from the player’s system in 24-hours and the CCES (the independent tester for the CFL) is prepared to travel to small towns to conduct the tests. On top of all that, failure to report for a test is viewed as a policy violation.
Most of the criticism, including Friesen’s, is directed at the punishment, particularly that first offenses are not made public and players are only subject to mandatory testing and optional counselling. However, commissioner Cohon in an subsequent interview explained that in advice from the CCES, education was stressed. There have been no complaints from CCES on the punishment being lax. The first offense punishment may be the weakest part of the agreement, but once caught a player has little chance of continuing use of performance enhancing drugs while under mandatory testing. Subsequent positives tests will result in suspensions, with the fourth suspension a lifetime ban with no opportunity for reinstatement. For players without million dollar contracts, those risks are not worth losing their livelihood over, especially considering teams can decide to drop a player at any time due to positive results.
Friesen, and others, directs further criticism at the lack of illegal recreation drugs from the list of banned substances. This has been a performance enhancing drug policy from the start and the CFL did the correct thing to keep them separate. Illegal drugs and alcohol should be handled under a separate policy. Most teams have adopted code of conduct policies recently that have zero tolerance for illegal activity. Punishment for illegal activity should be left to the courts and it should be up to individual teams whether they want to employ a person who has charges or convictions against him. If the CFL and CFLPA choose to negotiate a policy around recreation drugs and alcohol, I would suspect it would provide for a single rehabilitation program for players who seek it but provide no punishments. The door would always be open for players who refuse rehab treatment, relapse, or are charged with drug or alcohol related incidents to be released.
Team conduct policies stating the behaviour expected from players and team personnel are the proper way to handle illegal drugs. Bringing in those issues into the performance enhancing drug testing policy only raises concern from players, allowing the policy to be weakened.
It can’t be forgotten that the policy was a negotiation between the two parties. The Players’ Association appears to be fully on board with creating a level playing field for their members in creating the policy. In fact, players were more interested in preserving their 4.5 hour work day than fighting the league testing for performance enhancing drugs. Even though the CFLPA may not be concerned with testing, they still have to keep the rights of players in mind in creating the policy. Despite the league’s upswing in the past decade, there is not a lot of money to be thrown around. The league is likely spending more on drug testing in the final two years of the CBA than the $50,000/year increase in the salary cap that the player’s will see. Even if every player in the CFL is clean, the CFLPA would not allow an agreement to ban players on a first positive test and include recreational drugs in the testing without something more in return.
There is room for improvement, but with both groups on the same side, they should be easy to incorporate in the next negotiations. I have questions on how the random selection of players is made. Is there an equal distribution among teams and positions? For improvements, I would say to provide some transparency, a summary of the number of positive tests be provided each year. This will give the public some idea of how much of an issue performance enhancing drugs are. The process to add substances to the list of banned drugs should also be clarified. If it only can occur during CBA negotiation, the CFL is left unable to test for new substances over the life of the agreement.
The performance drug testing policy for the CFL is a huge leap ahead. It does a lot of little things right that put the league and players on the same side of the issue. There is opportunity for the plan to be improved the next go around, but the CFL is in a much better starting position with its players than other leagues were with the introduction of their policies.