Australian news June 7, 2011

Free agency confirmed for Big Bash League

Australia's cricketers have become free agents in Twenty20 and can begin signing up with the new Big Bash League franchises. Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers' Association (ACA) have signed off on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), despite shelving negotiations over the distribution of private investment money that could come in for the newly-formed city-based Twenty20 sides.

The one-year extension to the existing MOU means that the players and administrators have a little extra time to come to an agreement over private investment, if and when backers begin to jump on board with the Melbourne and Sydney sides. The ACA chief executive Paul Marsh said that if private money came in before this summer's inaugural Big Bash League, the players could still win a piece of the pie.

"We have no idea what value if anything is going to come from the private investment money that may come in to these franchises," Marsh said. "Until we get some certainty around that I don't think it would have been a smart decision for us to lock in for more than one year. Next year, if we can get some certainty around that we may lock in for a longer term.

"One thing we've negotiated into this deal is a clause that if and when that does happen, then we'll sit down with CA and seek to negotiate an outcome. It would be fair to say we're a fair way apart on that particular issue, so there'll be some pretty robust discussions on that if and when that time comes."

James Sutherland, the CA chief executive, said the decision to side-step private investment had been necessary to keep the Australian game from grinding to an industrial halt.

"Both parties have agreed it's not an issue today," he said. "It may be an issue in the future and if it is an issue in the future then we will in good faith sit down with each other and talk that through. In some ways perhaps ideally it would be great to be sitting here today and say we've locked that down and got some agreement on that.

"But it's a common sense, pragmatic approach to the situation, we want the show to keep moving on and we want to be absolutely focused in giving players the security around their future as much as possible."

The ACA has already had one major victory in the Big Bash League, with Cricket Australia agreeing to free agency as the method of recruitment. With eight teams in the new competition, which begins in December, existing state contracts will bear no relevance to who plays where, so a die-hard Victorian like Brad Hodge could end up playing for Hobart, or Adelaide, or Brisbane.

Cricket Australia's original preference had been for all players to enter a draft, which could have meant a widespread scattering of cricketers to unfamiliar parts of the country. But under the free-agency model, every player will be able to negotiate his own deal with a team of his choice, which Marsh said was a significant win for the players.

"One of the great outcomes for us around the Big Bash is we fought very hard to get a player allocation model of free agency," he said. "That means players can negotiate with the teams of their choice and agree to terms, the value of their choice. We fought hard for that and we've got to a point now where we have an unrestricted free-agency model, which is pretty rare in world sport.

"It's a big change from what we've traditionally had. We've come to some very good solutions here. It's going to be a change and the players are going to have to get used to having two different contracts, two different employers. It is more complex. But in time we'll get used to it and it will become the norm."

The ACA and Cricket Australia had struggled to reach common ground on the MOU for several months, with the private investment issue and a distribution of funds from a proposed redevelopment of the WACA the two key sticking points. In the end, those two issues were put aside so planning for the Big Bash League could stay on track, and the players will retain their share of 26% of Australian cricket revenue.

"Australian cricket has one of its biggest summers ever coming up in terms of both fan appeal but also in terms of revenue coming into the game," Cricket Australia's chief executive James Sutherland said. "The launch of the Big Bash League is important to us and to the ACA because of its long-term value in helping cricket recruit young people to become cricket fans; and the international programme we hope to announce later this week will offer current and new fans a big year of international cricket.

"Recognising this, CA and the ACA have agreed to defer a number of outstanding issues until next year to ensure we can all get on with planning a big summer that will be important to fans and to players alike."

One thing they did agree on was a reduction in the number of state contracts, with each side having 14 to 18 spots available, down from the existing range of 16 to 20. Base contract levels will also dip slightly, but players shouldn't be short-changed thanks to the promise of extra money from their new Twenty20 deals.

The Big Bash League sides will have to work under a salary cap, but there will be no maximum contract figure for an individual player. Sides will be able to sign up to two overseas players in a squad of 18.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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