Could Australia's best cricketers all be out of a job by the weekend? Might our best male players even do the unthinkable -- and miss the Ashes this coming summer?
It's possible, yes.
Friday June 30 at midnight was deadline time for a new Memorandum of Understanding in the ongoing showdown between Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers' Association. As of Friday evening, both parties have conceded no agreement will be made by July 1.
"CA has been disappointed by the ACA's unwillingness to consider the sensible and necessary change CA has proposed to the fixed share of revenue player payments model," the governing body said in a statement.
"The model was adopted 20 years ago to address the underpayment of players. The game has changed fundamentally since then: players are now justifiably well rewarded and the modern challenge is the chronic under-funding of the grass roots of the game, particularly junior cricket."
Here's a simple background to the battle between cricket's top suits and elite players.
So what's this dispute about?
The dispute is all about a new pay arrangement proposed by the governing body, which the players are far from happy about.
In short, CA wants to ditch the current revenue sharing model -- under which the top domestic (state) and international players share a big chunk (up to 27 percent) of CA revenue.
Players like the current deal. It gives them a stake in the game and they say it makes them feel like "partners", rather than employees. Crucially, the current deal means that when the game is thriving -- as it is now -- players get more.
There's an element of the gambler with most sports people. On field, they are rewarded for taking risks that come off. A pay model that follows similar principles is naturally appealing to them.
CA sees things otherwise. Under the offer it has tabled, both men's and women's wages would actually rise over time (female players in particular would receive much more, so their offer is not an all-round slap-in-the-face). But those rises would still be fixed in advance.
Top down or bottom up: Grass roots or players first?
Cricket Australia says the new system would leave it more money to funnel profit into the game's grass roots. It illustrated this in an internal briefing note which was obtained by Fairfax media a month ago. Part of that note read:
"A $100,000 investment that generates $115,000 of revenue should result in a profit of $15,000, to be invested back into cricket. But because the players get a share of revenue, not profit, they would be entitled to 24.5 per cent of the $115,000, leaving Cricket Australia with just $86,825 of the original $100,000, an actual loss of $13,175.
"Thus, any CA investment requires an unrealistic profit of 32 percent just to break even. More than 70 percent of Cricket Australia's expenditure is investment in elite cricket. Players are entitled to 24.5 percent of every dollar returned from that investment, not just every dollar of profit."
When CA speaks of grass roots, it has the interests of the game at heart. But the players arguably do too.
Remember that the current revenue sharing model extends to players at state level who don't play international cricket. Players on this tier have struggled in the past as semi-professionals.
The big guns like Steve Smith and Dave Warner are batting not just for themselves in this dispute, but for those who are not quite as talented as them, or who may be one day, but have not yet blossomed. A strong national XI needs 100 strong, well paid players. Our best few guys believe that.
They also believe that when there's a strong national men's team, the whole game flourishes. History certainly backs up this viewpoint.
Interestingly, Cricket Australia has offered to continue to let the cream of the elite -- guys like Australian men's captain and vice-captain Steve Smith and Dave Warner -- retain their revenue sharing deal. Other players, however, won't get it. And the ACA won't buy that.
The multi million dollar question
You won't hear anybody say this too loudly, but the reluctance of the players to shift to a fixed wage model is largely due to the fact the current TV rights deal expires after the 2017/18 summer.
The old deal, struck five years ago, was worth $500 million. But the Big Bash was in its infancy then, and would be worth far more than the paltry $100 million ($20 million per season) Ten paid for it.
It's generally believed that whoever secures the rights will get all forms of cricket bundled together (as opposed the to the Channel 9/10 split we have now). And remember, both the NRL and AFL struck billion dollar plus deals in recent years.
Our top cricketers want a slice of what they believe could be a vastly bigger pie.
CA's act of brinkmanship
Things came to a head this Wednesday, when CA High Performance Manager Pat Howard sent a formal letter to players. It told them they would effectively be unemployed by Saturday if no deal is agreed upon.
The letter was leaked to The Australian, and you can read it in full here.
In part, it read:
"If your contract expires on 30 June, you will not be an employee of CA, a State Association or a W/BBL Team from 1 July. This means that you are not required to play, train, perform player appearances or media commitments, and you will not be paid a retainer until such time as a MOU is agreed and a player contract is agreed with you in writing."
So what will uncontracted players do if this is not resolved?
Potentially, they will miss the Ashes, which start this November and which run through till early January 2018.
"Australia's players face a ban from this summer's Ashes series should they take part in any kind of 'disapproved cricket' in the event of an extended pay dispute beyond the July 1 expiry of the current MOU," the Howard email reads.
What exactly is "disapproved cricket"? It's anything not sanctioned by international cricket's governing body, the ICC -- and if you play it, you can't play an ICC-sanctioned event like The Ashes until six months have elapsed.
As stated, the Friday night deadline has now been missed. Australia's best players are set to gather in Sydney on Sunday to talk tactics about what to do next.
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