Get a job: CFL commissioner suggests players work in off-season

Commissioner Randy Ambrosie offered a solution Friday to CFL players looking to make more money: Find an off-season job.

Some players have complained about not be able to pursue higher-paying NFL opportunities

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie has spent the off-season traveling across the country to get input from fans, players, owners and sponsors. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Commissioner Randy Ambrosie offered a solution Friday to CFL players looking to make more money: Find an off-season job.

"Our players at the end of the season are free to work and frankly I personally encourage them to do that," Ambrosie said in an interview on the CFL website. "That's how I built my career.

"I worked during the season as well but I certainly worked full-time in the off-season and I'd encourage our guys to do that. To start building an opportunity for their after-football life which, frankly, comes up more quickly than you would think when you're in the game."

Last month, running back James Wilder Jr. and defensive lineman Victor Butler expressed frustration that the Toronto Argonauts wouldn't allow them to pursue lucrative NFL opportunities this off-season. Both players signed two-year deals with the Grey Cup-champion Argos prior to the 2017 campaign.

Wilder Jr. said in a statement his base salary last season was $56,000 and he planned to sit out this season and work a construction job to support his family of four. As a seven-year NFL veteran, Butler would make over US$900,000 down south compared to the $60,000 he says he's scheduled to earn in 2018 with Toronto.

On Thursday, Ambrosie issued a statement saying, "players are required to honour their contracts as they are registered with the league." He continued that conversation Friday.

'Everyone wants to make more money'

"Of course when you're sitting in the locker-room everyone wants to make more money, but that's true in the world at large," Ambrosie said. "Everyone would like a pay raise and to make a little more to look after their families.

"And I suppose that's one of the goals to growing our game, growing our league to being bigger and stronger is that over a period of time everyone associated with our great game would do better both on the field and financially. But, for now, I'm confident that these players have signed these agreements in good faith and we're asking them to honour these agreements in good faith."

Many CFL players currently hold down off-season jobs but Ambrosie's comments are sure to upset others who feel they're being dictated to. The league has already drawn the ire of the CFL Players' Association by directing its teams to stop paying players off-season bonuses until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached next year.

Ambrosie, 54, played nine CFL seasons as an offensive lineman with Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto (1985-93). After football, Ambrosie enjoyed a successful career in the financial services sector.

Option window

Upon retiring, Ambrosie became the North American head of sales at HSBC Securities. In 2004, he joined AGF Management Ltd. as its head of sales and marketing and two years later was appointed president of AGF Funds Inc.

After serving as president and CEO of Accretive 360 Inc. (2010-2012), Ambrosie joined MacDougall, MacDougall & MacTier — then Canada's oldest investment firm — as president and CEO.

The CFL used to have an option window, which gave players entering the final year or option year of their deals roughly a six-week stretch to work out for and sign with NFL teams. Ambrosie said it's too late for the league to look at the matter now but left the door open about doing so later.

"We did talk about this at our league meetings back in January and our GMs at the time . . . . decided that they didn't feel that it was the right time to change it," he said. "The window to change the rule for this year has passed but that doesn't mean it has to stay closed forever."