Multi-National Football? How & Why?

Photo via fbschedules.com

I remember waking up on Sunday, February 9, 2020 with a sense of a new chapter beginning that day. Pulling into MetLife Stadium seeing tailgate tents, cornhole, the smoke of grills, it all reminded me of my college Saturdays down south. Never being a real follower of the NFL, there was the feeling that this was truly something different, and it was. It. Was. The. XFL!

Sadly it ended just as quickly as it began. A pandemic that has & continues to turn the world upside down brought the XFL’s momentum to a screeching halt. Getting the email that the season was cancelled and our tickets and parking would be refunded brought with it a terribly foreboding feeling. Shortly afterwards the bankruptcy news broke. It was crushing. The XFL was a special league and could’ve been a true disruptor.

I remember the passion St. Louis showed when their city was selected. The feelings of betrayal and abandonment was channeled into a great home environment with fans who packed the seats and were the first to break the ceiling of the second deck. Chants of ‘Ka-Kaw” and “Kroenke Sucks” became a battle cry of sorts. Seattle also proved itself as one of the best football cities in America, after it was the second, & lower rent choice to San Francisco. The 12th Man isn’t only limited to Sundays in the fall cheering on the Seahawks. Then came one of the true icons of the league out of DC, THE BEER SNAKE. Stretching the full length of the end zone seating fans were able to stack their beer cups, which would end up going viral. XFL commissioner Oliver Luck even contributed to the effort when he was in town. Would Goodell do that? Never! Only in the XFL would that happen.

The original version of the XFL was a disruptor too. Outside of the violent hits, over the top drama and titillation, and blatant disregard for quality of play, from it we got the skycam, mic’d up players, & pro football in Las Vegas. #NeverForget

When Dwayne Johnson and Dani Garcia took the league out of bankruptcy in August of 2020, fans were able to find relief that the league had a future and some direction. With it came the $64,000 question, “Can a spring football league survive?” With the demise of both versions of the XFL & the Alliance of American Football, Major League Football never taking off, and the sad saga of the USFL (thanks Donald), it seemed that the NFL & College Football were just too big of beasts to take on an carve out a niche in a saturated and well supported product. Are they forever doomed to fail?

Then came March 10, 2021, and the XFL announced that they were delaying the 2022 restart. Ugh really??? Maybe we just need to brace for it to be gone forever and that the belief in the folly of spring football leagues is true. Oh wait, what’s this? The XFL & Canadian Football League are entering formal negotiations on collaboration & “growing the game of football”?! It’s a brand new ballgame folks!

With this news comes understandable excitement and skepticism, from both sides of the border. Let’s break it down here:

Excitement:

  • Could this lead to a bigger TV deal for both leagues and add more revenues?
  • Interleague play? What could that look like?
  • Ahh the most fun game we can play, expansion predictions and Speculation!! San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, Orlando, Birmingham, Syracuse, or San Antonio? Will expansion teams share the names of old CFL teams? There will be a whole special article devoted to this topic!

Skepticism:

  • Merger?? Oh gosh those always end in disasters!
  • We love the unique rules of our respective leagues. What will be changed? What will be kept?
  • The relaunch has been delayed? When will the league come back?
  • The CFL can’t play in the spring months. When would they play?
  • What will happen to the Grey Cup? It’s an icon of Canadian sports?
  • Uhhh the CFL field dimensions are very different. What will be done about that?

With negotiations just starting, surely nothing will be announced soon. They’ll also surely be kept close to the vest with a vow of silence among all parties. In the meantime, it’s up to us fans to speculate and release our own business plans and ideas. A pillar of the XFL was as Vince McMahon said, “Give the game of football back to fans”. So let’s get to it and see if we can smell what the XFL & CFL are cooking!!!

The biggest challenge that both leagues face is cash flow. Both were highly reliant on ticket sales and game day revenues to keep afloat. Much like in other sports in Canada, corporate sponsorship runs a little low in certain areas. Ever wonder why the Expos, Nordiques & Jets left for the USA? The XFL gave their TV product away for free. Dani Garcia has already announced that free broadcasting rights will NOT be part of their business plan going forward. Having an international product will certainly give both leagues significant more leverage in negotiations and will create a better sense of legitimacy among fans. Not only will gameday television revenues be a new stream, but let’s not forget the marketing machine of The Rock. The relaunch of the league would make a great streaming content product on say Netflix or Amazon Prime. That begs to also have a show following a teams season like “The Grind” or “Hard Knocks”. Not only will streaming revenues play a part, but sponsorship certainly will as well. The opportunity to advertise throughout two nations will draw more companies and will command higher prices.

The easiest topic to address is “When will the XFL come back”? Simple answer is who knows with this. With the leagues lack of news or fan engagement I became skeptical of their planned 2022 relaunch. Could see 2023 be more likely. What time of year that is however, is yet to be seen.

The iconic Grey Cup. A symbol of Canadian sports and the most coveted trophy, outside of Lord Stanley at least. There are two courses of action that can be taken here. The Grey Cup can be the championship game between the two leagues. For those who want to maintain its Canadian heritage, it can be the trophy awarded to the semifinal between the final two Canadian teams. Not too difficult, just a choice between heritage and some international prestige.

The number one concern it seems among the fans of each league seems to be the thought of the dreaded MERGER! Due to strict Canadian laws about foreign entities owning domestic companies and unfavorable exchange rates, I could see the league remaining as separate entities for both financial and legal reasons. Again, I’m not a lawyer or financial expert, but conjecture and league silence permits me to say this haha. Each nation has its own unique sets of circumstances and allowing each to have a certain amount of their own freedom and flexibility will appease skeptical fans and keep some autonomy.

The time of year in which the season plays is a unique issue. The XFL plays from February through April. In most of their markets the weather is not an issue. That’s not the same for their CFL counterparts. In February some cities daily highs top out in the 20s, while in April most barely crack 50 degrees. A change in season will certainly have to be made for the XFL if interleague play is desired. This is an area that could present a bit of fan pushback. Many fans I’ve spoken to said it was the perfect bridge between the Super Bowl and Opening Day for the MLB season. Keep in mind, in Canada this time of year is the heart of hockey season. That’s a fight sadly I think the CFL would lose, wouldn’t even be close. I’d also be lying if I said the cold weather didn’t prevent more fans from coming to games. It’s also snowbird season in the northeast. Perhaps when it warms up wouldn’t be the worst thing for XFL opening weekend timing.

If time of year is a deal breaker, perhaps a “bubble tournament” concept would be in order. The XFL ends in April, the CFL begins in June. Perhaps in May, a tournament at an indoor venue in Canada could be an option. Montreal’s Stade Olympique is sitting there empty most of the time. Could become home of a special yearly tournament between the best teams of each league. Could be a system with seeding based on the standings of the previous regular season, with the Champions being the number 1 seed. This’ll help both CFL & XFL players get some more tape for possibly getting signed to the NFL. The CFL has also struggled in some of their key markets in the past few years, according to CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie. This would be the “World Cup” of football. Other cities that could make good hosts are Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Seattle, Syracuse, Boston, Buffalo, and New York City.

One of the most interesting things I’ve found about the Canadian Football League is their field dimensions. The playing field is 110 yards as opposed to 100 in the US, and the end zones are 20 years deep as opposed to 10. This results in a field length of 150 yards. The CFL field is also wider at 65 yards instead of 53.5 in the NFL. This would create challenges for games in American venues. Most all football specific venues wouldn’t fit properly, even in Major League Soccer venues it wouldn’t work out. One way to handle this is similar to how Major League Baseball handles the DH. If an XFL team plays in Canada they play on CFL dimensions, in an XFL venue they play with XFL dimensions. While this is the easiest solution, it would have a major issue on uniformity and continuity of play. I think the XFL would benefit from implementing some CFL elements to the field dimensions. The XFL wanted to make kickoffs and punts a relevant play again, so wider fields would certainly aid in this effort.

Sadly the CFL might have to change a little bit, but if so here’s what I find to be a healthy compromise to keep some CFL identity and allow USA fans to enjoy a Canadian touch:

  1. 100 yard long field
  2. 15 yard deep end zones
  3. 59 yard wide field
  4. Goal Posts are located at the back of the end zone.

Now an area where the XFL and CFL have managed to carve their own niches and identities is in the area of unique league rules. The XFL found a way to not make kickoffs and punts irrelevant, and the extra point and overtime systems were a stroke of brilliance. The double forward pass rule was highly embraced and allowed a unique brand of offensive scheming to be unique to their league. Also by having an official devoted to spotting the ball and broadcasting communications between the field officials and replay booth created better transparency and unique TV content. It is critical that these must be kept on in any time of collaboration.

The Canadian Football League has rules like no other, some should absolutely be included in a league in the United States. Some basics are that there are 3 downs instead of 4, a 20 second play clock, 12 players on the field (no tight ends), and catches only require one foot in bounds. The CFL also has a much more simplified version of illegal motion for receivers.

There’s also a unique way of how fumbles out of bounds are handled. In the NFL if a ball is fumbled and goes out of bounds the team who last had possession retains it. In the CFL instead the team of which the player who last touched the ball inbounds retains possession. The XFL should embrace this rule due to their effort to increase player safety.

Another great part of CFL play that should be Single Points, or a “Rouge”. A single point can be scored by kicking the ball into the end zone and the receiving team not running it out. This is a minor change and the XFL would need to see how it fits with their punting rules.

Plus a hallmark of the original XFL that they must certainly embrace again is the CFL’s No Fair Catch rule! This aligns perfectly with the leagues rule of defenders not being allowed to cross the line of scrimmage until the punt has been received. Keeps a Canadian rule while embracing XFL history.

If there’s ever to be a unification of rules, a way to potentially make it work could be:

XFL Rules to Keep:

  • Punt & Kickoff
  • Extra points
  • Overtime
  • Double forward pass
  • Broadcasting of plays under review

CFL Rules to Keep:

  • 20 second play clock
  • Fumbles out of bounds
  • Single points
  • No fair catch
  • One foot in bounds

Do we know anything about what the two leagues are talking about, of course not. Do we know what they’re looking to do, no. Is it too early to panic or start speculating like this, of course. Is it fun to brainstorm and think of what could be, absolutely! That is what this article is all about. We have no idea what these discussions could lead to. The XFL developed its cult following out of being innovative and doing what most other leagues were hesitant to do. Hopefully the new ownership embraces that mentality, grows the league, finds some security, and is part of our lives for years to come. See everyone at the next New York Guardians game!

James is a contributor to The Sports Throne in the areas of Major League Baseball, the XFL, and college football, mostly in opinion articles. He’s a graduate of Clemson University, graduating in 2014. Follow his Instagram and Twitter below.

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jlcu_ttmgraphsmancave/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jlcu_ttmgraphs

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