Counties will face no sanctions if they fall under the salary collar - the minimum sum they are permitted to spend on player wages - in 2020, as the English game looks to protect jobs during the Covid-19 crisis.
16 out of 18 counties have used the government's job-retention scheme to furlough their playing staff, and the majority of overseas signings for this season have had their contracts cancelled or deferred.
According to the terms of the County Partnership Agreement (CPA) signed between the Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA), the ECB and the first-class counties last year, counties should spend between £1.5-£2.5 million on player wages annually. Sanctions might have included reduced ECB incomes or points deductions, but none will be imposed if counties fall under the collar this year.
"We've relaxed the salary collar that was in [place] for the counties this year," Daryl Mitchell, the PCA chairman, told ESPNcricinfo. "With the cuts that have gone on and the situation with overseas players, there would probably be teams that would fall under the collar, but there will be no punishment for that which enables counties to hopefully be able to keep players on their books with the savings they've made so far.
"Nobody would have foreseen what has happened in any industry, let alone cricket. The CPA was put in place 12 months ago or so. With Covid, county finances and ECB finances are going to look completely different."
I think 14 out of 18 counties, per my understanding, are very keen to play red-ball cricket, and then the other four would prefer to play one-day cricket
Daryl Mitchell, PCA chairman
The CPA also introduced a new minimum wage of £27,500 for full-time professionals and new rookie contracts for young players aged 18-21. But, due to the impact of the pandemic, counties will be able to roll rookie contracts over to next year even if players are 22 by the time the season starts, and the PCA has discussed relaxing the minimum wage internally.
"No county has actually mentioned that [the minimum wage] to us yet," Mitchell said. "There's not been any sort of approach to see what we can do around that, but it has been discussed internally and the reality is that our priority is to keep as many members as we can in jobs. It's almost a fallow year with so little cricket - it will be a minimal amount compared to a full season, so rookies can stay on rookie contracts for an extra year where previously they wouldn't have been allowed. There's flexibility there."
As things stand, the PCA's particular concern is about the 134 players whose contracts are up at the end of the season. Northamptonshire have already confirmed that they will not offer Rob Newton, the opening batsman, a new deal, and county directors of cricket have admitted that it will be harder than usual to keep players on the staff.
Yorkshire, for example, have given players an indication as to whether they are likely to win new deals, and have committed to making a firm decision before the end of July, with Martyn Moxon, the director of cricket, admitting on Monday that "a number of decisions will be made on financial reasons and not cricketing ones".
"They're the most vulnerable of our members at the moment," Mitchell said. "In any given year we generally lose 40-50 players from the game through being released or retired. Inevitably, with the financial situation the game finds itself in, those numbers are going to be higher this year."
The PCA's retirement fund has already been bolstered by the prize money pots from the County Championship and the Royal London Cup this year, while it is hoped that a change in dates in standard contracts - which now runs until November - will ensure those leaving the game have a smoother transition.
Mitchell admitted that it would be difficult to avoid a situation whereby players in the final year of the contracts feel under pressure to opt in. "They obviously want to put themselves in the shop window to earn a new contract or get a move elsewhere, so they are difficult decisions," he said. "But as long as the player has that choice and has the support and backing of the PCA and their club, it should make it a smoother process."
Mitchell said that he was "confident" some form of county cricket would be possible this year, with Worcestershire and Surrey resuming training on Monday after Lancashire did so last week. A final decision on dates and formats is expected to be taken on July 6 or 7.
"I think 14 out of 18 counties, per my understanding, are very keen to play red-ball cricket, and then the other four would prefer to play one-day cricket," Mitchell said. "From the players' point of view, I think we've got individual players who are red or white-ball only, so some sort of mix would probably suit the majority."
The main dividing line at present is the increased cost of four-day cricket, and the uncertainty surrounding the availability of hotels.
"There's a split of preference, but I think the majority - if not all - the CEOs have said they will play," Mitchell said. "I don't think [anyone] will opt out as a team. The last thing you want is two or three sides deciding not to play and you have 70 pros on the side watching everyone else playing.
"I don't think that would be acceptable. We need all 18 counties to buy into whatever competitions we can for the last couple of months of the season."