Rick Zamperin: If CFL and XFL merge, our game’s Canadian roots must remain

If a partnership between the CFL and XFL is going to work, there has to be some lines drawn in the sand.

And I’m not talking about a hook and ladder play that you draw up on the schoolyard playground during a game with your best buds.

Last Wednesday, the Canadian Football League announced that it was exploring opportunities to work with the XFL to collaborate, innovate, and grow the game of football.

Read more: CFL, XFL in talks over potential partnership

“We look forward to exploring how we might work with one of the most innovative sports brands in the world to grow the game, engage fans in new ways, and reach new audiences,” said CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie. “We look forward to seeing what possibilities our discussions might uncover, and to sharing those with our fans as the process unfolds.”

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“Blending the CFL’s rich heritage with our fresh thinking, and the unique reach and experience of our ownership, could be transformative for the game,” said XFL president and CEO Jeffrey Pollack. “We look forward to learning more about what’s possible together with the CFL and where our shared passion takes us.”

Read more: Winnipeg Blue Bombers boss says CFL, XFL talks could be good news for league

Exactly what the CFL-XFL collaboration means, and what it looks like, no one seems to know at this point.

Some people believe the partnership between the two leagues could spell the end of the CFL while others think it could be a match that will extend the lifespan of Canada’s beloved three-down game.

It has been reported that the CFL lost between $60 million and $80 million after it was forced to cancel the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which averages out to between $6.6 million and $8.8 million in losses per team.

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The CFL asked the federal government last year for a $30-million, interest-free loan so it could hold a season without fans in attendance, a request that was denied.

It would make sense, then, that the league will need roughly $30 million this year to put on a season in 2021 while restrictions on large public gatherings remain in place across the country.

Enter the XFL, with its deep pockets and marketing wizardry in tow, making it a natural partner in more ways than one.

While it is far from set in stone what each league will offer the other, XFL co-owner Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Dani Garcia could be relied upon to offer their new northern friends some cash.

In return, the XFL ownership group would be able to latch on to the CFL’s rich, decades-long history, and gain more exposure into Canada through partnerships with the Canadian league.

And, of course, there is always the chance of a merger.

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Imagine this. The CFL’s nine teams paired up with the XFL’s eight franchises from its bankrupt 2020 season and throw in a team in Mexico City to make it an 18-team league.

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Some of you may have just pressed the panic button, and that’s OK, you’re allowed to be apprehensive — especially after the CFL’s dreadful expansion into the United States in the early 1990s.

Personally, I’d be okay with this plan as it could conceivably drum up more cash and if the new CFL-XFL adopts the National Football League’s revenue-sharing model, then it would be a win-win for all teams involved.

But here is where the line drawing begins and ends, and where potential merger talks get sticky.

Read more: Analysis: CFL, XFL could form relationship that benefits both leagues

At no point should the Canadian Football League consider adding a fourth down to its rulebook. In fact, if the XFL wants to innovate and grow the game of football, it should adopt the three-down game.

Think about it. The XFL, which came and went after its first go ‘round in 2001 and then didn’t survive its reincarnation last year, simply can’t compete with the NFL and any thought of that should be nipped in the bud immediately.

Play three downs, on the bigger field, with 12 players aside, keep the rouge for all I care and find a way to make the ratio work (which is easier said than done give U.S. labour laws) and let’s see how this all plays out.

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I must admit the ratio — which mandates every CFL team to dress a minimum of 21 Canadians, or ‘national’ players, and start seven of them — will be a sticky wicket in a merged CFL-XFL because the league will be hard pressed to convince the U.S. Labor Department that there is an insufficient number of qualified American players to fill those jobs.

But thinking about this potential partnership through a positive lens, what we will hopefully be left with is a bigger league, with more opportunities to play and grow the game.

The alternative — a league with four downs, a smaller field, 11 players aside (and no rouge) — will just set up everyone for failure.

Rick Zamperin is the assistant program, news and senior sports director at Global News Radio 900 CHML.

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