Sports

Scott Stinson: Return of XFL means a changing landscape for CFL players

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.

Vince
McMahon speaks about the XFL in 2000. The upstart football league
is set to make a comeback.
Ed Bailey/AP,
File

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, 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, during Grey Cup week, 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.

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