Trou­ble loom­ing for CFL?

Up­start U.S. foot­ball leagues could greatly di­min­ish pool of play­ers

Simcoe Reformer - - SPORTS - Scott stin­son sstin­[email protected]­

When the re­ports be­gan about a year ago that Vince Mcma­hon was work­ing on bring­ing back the XFL, the de­funct league that he once called a colos­sal fail­ure, I was con­fused.

When the league’s re-cre­ation was of­fi­cially an­nounced last Jan­uary, con­fu­sion was still the over­rid­ing sen­ti­ment. Mcma­hon, sound­ing like he had just smoked a car­ton of cig­a­rettes and then chewed some nails, ex­plained that this new ver­sion of the XFL would be noth­ing like the old one, that it would be “foot­ball reimag­ined,” and that they would soon be do­ing all that reimag­in­ing and would let us know what comes of it.

And now, 10 months af­ter that, with the XFL on Wed­nes­day an­nounc­ing its in­au­gu­ral eight cities and sta­di­ums, here is my up­date: still pretty con­fused.

While the league is now fill­ing out some of the de­tails on its plans and sched­ules, the great unan­swered ques­tion re­mains: Is there re­ally much of a de­sire for any of this? And while Wed­nes­day’s an­nounce­ments in­cluded re­peated ref­er­ences to the strong de­mand for foot­ball in the United States, the XFL has been beaten to the start­ing gate by the Al­liance of Amer­i­can Foot­ball, an­other up­start spring league that will be­gin play this com­ing Fe­bru­ary, a year ahead of the re­an­i­mated corpse of the XFL. Is this al­leged un­sat­is­fied de­mand for off­sea­son pro foot­ball strong enough to sup­port two nascent leagues?

What­ever the an­swers to those ques­tions might prove to be, there’s a more im­por­tant one for foot­ball fans on this side of the bor­der: what does all of this mean for the Cana­dian Foot­ball League?

We’ll come to the CFL part in a bit. First, what was learned about the XFL on Wed­nes­day: Four of the teams — New York, Seat­tle, Tampa Bay and St. Louis — will play in sta­di­ums that ei­ther house an NFL team or re­cently housed one. Dal­las will play in the Texas Rangers’ ball­park, be­cause they need a tenant for it now that the Rangers are get­ting an­other new sta­dium. Hous­ton will play at the Univer­sity of Hous­ton’s sta­dium, Wash­ing­ton will play at the new home of the MLS’ DC United, and Los An­ge­les will play at the Stubhub Cen­ter, the soc­cer sta­dium that tem­po­rar­ily houses the L.A. Charg­ers and thou­sands of fans of which­ever team is play­ing them.

Com­mis­sioner Oliver Luck said teams will start sign­ing play­ers in the “first quar­ter” of next year and the league will hold a draft some­time next fall. The eight teams will play 10-game sched­ules, mean­ing the whole thing will be wrapped up be­fore May. The XFL ex­pects to have 40-man ros­ters, with play­ers mak­ing US$75,000 per year.

As for the reimag­i­na­tion of foot­ball? They are still work­ing on that. Luck said a big fo­cus will be on a faster-mov­ing game, with fewer breaks in play, fewer time­outs and fewer TV time­outs. “Less stall, more ball,” he said, prov­ing again that peo­ple will proudly in­vent dumb slo­gans as long as they rhyme. Luck also said they think they can de­liver a game ex­pe­ri­ence that lasts less than three hours. That is … not dra­mat­i­cally shorter than a typ­i­cal NFL game.

The com­mis­sioner also said that he ex­pects most of the play­ers to come from the large pool of guys who can’t stick on an NFL ros­ter. When NFL teams make their fi­nal cuts in the fall, he said, about 900 foot­ball play­ers are sud­denly on the mar­ket.

Some of those play­ers have fil­tered up to the CFL in the past. And that’s the un­cer­tainty for the Cana­dian league: will a re­vived XFL drain some of the tal­ent pool for it?

It is easy at this point to wave off the XFL as the wild idea of a rich man, es­pe­cially when it keeps talk­ing about in­no­va­tions with­out ac­tu­ally say­ing what they are, but it aims to em­ploy a lot of foot­ball play­ers. Cou­pled with the 50-man ros­ters of the eight-team AAF, that’s 900 play­ers who could sign with one of the two spring leagues over the com­ing two sea­sons. The AAF is also promis­ing a first-year salary of US$75,000, which is close to dou­ble the value of the CFL’S min­i­mum salary of $54,000. It’s not hard to imag­ine a sce­nario where Amer­i­can play­ers opt to take more money from one of the spring leagues, play fewer games, and stay at home, than come north for a CFL job that will run into the NFL sea­son.

The CFL has his­tory, in­fra­struc­ture, es­tab­lished teams and fan bases, all of which make it at­trac­tive to some­one who wants to get paid to play foot­ball. The up­start leagues could eas­ily fol­low the path of their var­i­ous pre­de­ces­sors, which is to say straight to obliv­ion. But, Mcma­hon’s XFL is said to be but­tressed by US$100 mil­l­lion of his own money, and Luck said it is funded for a five-year plan that will give it time to grow.

The AAF lacks the wrestling im­pre­sario’s fi­nan­cial clout, but a host of Nfl-ex­pe­ri­enced coaches have signed up: Steve Spurrier, Mike Martz, Mike Sin­gle­tary and Brad Chil­dress.

These leagues have gone from vague ideas to ac­tual things in a short time. This is why the lead­ers of the CFL play­ers as­so­ci­a­tion were none­too-sub­tly re­fer­ring to the chang­ing land­scape of pro foot­ball when they were dis­cussing up­com­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions on a new col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment. They feel they have some lever­age.

It seems they have a pretty good point.

The as­so­ci­ated press files

Vince Mcma­hon speaks to re­porters in Fe­bru­ary 2000 dur­ing the XFL’S first in­car­na­tion. The league Mcma­hon once called a colos­sal fail­ure will re­launch in 2020.

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