Trou­ble loom­ing for CFL?

Up­start u.s. foot­ball leagues could greatly di­min­ish pool of play­ers

The Daily Press (Timmins) - - SPORTS - Scott stin­son

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 off-sea­son 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 none-too-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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