It’s rare that the Canadian Football League makes headlines — in two countries, no less — in March, but when there’s money and merger on the line, not to mention potential for salvation and/or demise, headlines come easy.
The CFL, which abandoned its 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic, was in infant stages of organizing the 2021 season when Commissioner Randy Ambrosie confirmed that collaboration talks with the XFL, a hangin’-by-a-thread grid league in the United States, would take place.
The XFL is fronted by the wildly popular Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson and his ex-wife, Dany Garcia.
“We look forward to seeing what possibilities our discussions might uncover, and to sharing those with our fans as the process unfolds,” Ambrosie said to ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert.
Immediately, panic set in among a number of CFL followers, who love the Canadian game and its unique rules (three downs, 12 players on the field, longer and wider field, the rouge, Canadian/import player ratios) and are worried that the CFL’s demise might be imminent if it casts its lot with an unproven entity such as the XFL.
Veteran CFL broadcaster Bob Irving of Winnipeg, who has covered the league since the early 1970s, has concerns about the CFL’s future.
“I think the CFL has been seduced by the Rock’s charisma and worldwide popularity,” said Irving.
“There is no harm in the CFL listening to what The Rock and his group have to offer, but if these talks lead to a merger, my worst fears will be founded.
“The things that make the Canadian game so unique … would all be in peril and if the failed CFL expansion to the U.S. in the 1990s proved anything, it’s that the CFL is far better off to find a solution to its problems on the north side of the border.
“Hopefully, a successful return to play in 2021 will allow the CFL to end this dalliance with the XFL.”
One thing the XFL does have, that the CFL covets, is money. Not playing games, or playing games without fans, is a killer for the CFL, which collects the bulk of its revenue from gate receipts.
Billion-dollar TV deals exist in the U.S., but definitely not north of the border.
The XFL doesn’t plan to play in 2021, but is looking toward a restart in 2022. Whether that includes some sort of arrangement involving the CFL remains to be seen,
There are two distinct views:
1.) A lot of flag-waving Canadians pray for the status quo, without any American involvement;
2.) A lot of flag-waving Canadians pray for the XFL’s involvement to prevent the CFL’s demise.
• Comedy writer Alex Kaseberg: “Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have agreed to a one-year contract extension. The contract includes a $5 million incentive bonus for another drunken boat toss of the Lombardi Trophy.”
• Comedy writer Brad Dickson of Omaha: “Apparently after watching too many sporting events, the Nebraska governor is about to announce that businesses can reopen ‘at 110 per cent capacity.’ ”
• Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star, on Twitter: “Curling observation: Kevin Koe, whether winning or losing, often looks like he’s wondering if he left the stove on.”
• Patti Dawn Swansson, aka the River City Renegade, expressing skepticism about a future CFL-XFL arrangement: “Maybe they’ll make a go of it this time around. And maybe Johnny Manziel will collect as many Super Bowl rings as Tom Brady.”
• Quebec skip Mike Fournier, writing in SI/com, on one Brier game which began with five consecutive blank ends: “I think even the cardboard cut-outs were napping.”
• Alex Kaseberg again: “People are either excited about filling out their NCAA brackets for the tournament or they’re not. When I told my co-worker I had Gonzaga in the semis, she suggested I should get a shot of penicillin.”
• Headline at TheOnion.com: “Report: Most NFL teams just 1 or 2 overpriced free agents away from Super Bowl victory.”
• Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe, via Twitter, on the death of middleweight icon Marvelous Marvin Hagler: “At his championship peak, he was Boston’s fifth major sports franchise all by himself.”
• Jack Finarelli, at sportscurmudgeon.com, on March Madness referees prepping for the pro ranks: “They certainly ignored enough travelling violations last night to demonstrate to the NBA mavens that they have that part of their officiating duties down pat.”
• Finarelli, who loves going through rosters of NCAA teams and then playing name games, offered up this one: “Dajuan Harris, Jr. is a guard on the Kansas team. Too bad he is not a twin; if he were, his brother could have been named ‘Da-udda-juan’.”
• Steve Simmons of Sun Media, recalling one of his favourite lines from former NHL coach Harry Neale: “Last season we couldn’t win at home. This season we can’t win on the road. My failure as a coach is I can’t think of any place else to play.”
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by Bruce Penton