The CFL has instituted a first-time drug policy that surpasses any other in professional sports and will soon test its players for human growth hormone.
The policy, unveiled Tuesday as part of the CFL's new four-year collective agreement with its players, will take effect in 2011. Blood and urine samples will be collected from 80 to 100 players and testing will be done year-round, with only a 24-hour notification. The league will be checking for a wide variety of performance-enhancers from ephedrine to stanozolol to HGH.
No other professional sports league tests its athletes for HGH, which builds muscle mass but can also cause side effects such as liver and thyroid damage. Major League Baseball has made the use HGH illegal, but doesn't test for it. The NFL wants to test for it, but its players have yet to agree.
"This is a way to promote and protect the integrity of our game. We have focused on performance-enhancing drugs to do so," said CFL chief operating officer Michael Copeland, noting the league will not be testing for recreational drugs. "The policy is very strong, smart and serious."
The CFL plan, three years in the making, will work as follows: Twenty-five per cent of the league's almost 400 players will be randomly tested in 2011; 35 per cent will be tested in 2012 and 2013.
A player caught the first time using a banned substance - there are 132 illegal drugs on the league's list - is subject to mandatory testing and provided with counselling. A player caught a second time gets a three-game suspension and will be publicly identified. A three-time offender will receive a year's suspension, while a fourth offence will result in a lifetime ban.
A player who has already tested positive in another league (NFL, U.S. NCAA, Canadian Interuniversity Sport) for a substance on the CFL's banned list will be subjected to mandatory testing as a first-time offender.
"As a union, we were 100 per cent in favour of drug testing," Calgary Stampeders player representative Wes Lysack said. "As players, we listen to the community and the community has been pushing for this a long time."
Testing CFL players out of season is going to be tricky business. Once the season ends, the majority of import players return to their homes, some in remote patches of the United States. It will be up to the Ottawa-based Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports to conduct the testing on behalf of the CFL.
"We are fully prepared to go into small towns and test them," CCES spokesperson Rosemary Pitfield said. "None of the substances on the list can be eliminated from the system in 24 hours. If someone does not show for a test, the CFL is viewing it a policy violation [and a positive result]"
The CFL said its new drug program will need a year's worth of lead-in time for educational purposes and that its cost would be several hundred thousand dollars. It will also test the top 80 CIS football prospects attending the CFL's evaluation camp starting next spring.
Testing Canadian university players became a priority issue earlier this month, when Waterloo shut down its football program. Nine Waterloo players either admitted to using performance-enhancers or refused to be tested. The entire 62-man Waterloo lineup was tested after receiver Nathan Zettler was arrested for possession of steroids for trafficking. Three others have been arrested in connection with Zettler.
The new CBA was ratified unanimously by the CFL's board of governors and received a 94-per-cent vote of approval from the players.
League commissioner Mark Cohon called it a "collaborative and co-operative agreement," adding: "It strengthens out business model. It recognizes the contributions of our players and the importance of Canadians to our game. It introduces a drug-testing policy that targets performance-enhancing drugs."
Other highlights of the CFL's new four-year CBA: Gone is the players' ability to receive 56 per cent of the league's gross revenue in salaries. Instead, the CFL will have a salary floor and cap system. In 2010, the floor will be $3.9-million; the cap $4.25-million. By 2013, the floor will be $4-million and the cap $4.4-million.
The players' minimum salary will increase from $42,000 in 2010, to $45,000 in 2013. There will also be increases to player benefits and insurance.
The NFL option window, which allows CFL players to head south before the option year of their CFL contract, will be phased out by February of 2012.
Teams can have off-season workouts. They can last up to three days between Feb. 1 and April 30, and must be non-contact. Quarterbacks can report early to training camp.
Two non-drafted Canadian players and a Canadian quarterback can attend training camp and not count towards that team's training camp roster.
The roster ratio remains at 20 Canadians, 19 Americans and three quarterbacks of any nationality.