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It’s too early to fear the demise of Canadian football

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The Canadian sporting world has been abuzz the past week or so by talks of a potential partnership between the Canadian Football League and the twice-failed XFL. Purist fans of the Canadian league are up in arms about what this could mean for their beloved game, while those turned on by the flashier version of the game – and the face behind the XFL – may be rubbing their palms together in glee.

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Emotions among Canadian football fans – whether high or low – are premature at this time. The two leagues are simply talking about how to grow the game. There has been no talk about a merger at this point, and those who fear this could mean the demise of a Canadian institution are jumping the gun.

Nevertheless, there is rampant speculation in Canada that the two parties may be discussing a merger of sorts. What has converted this from an average story into a major story is the face behind the XFL – professional wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne (the Rock) Johnson, who purchased the league alongside his ex-wife and another business partner from World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Vince McMahon. Johnson has been a leading box office attraction the past decade or so and currently has a new wrestling-themed sitcom on network television.

Since speculation of a possible merger exists, let’s look at what that might mean. Certainly, it could never be called the Canadian Football League again – not with an almost equal number of U.S.-based XFL teams in the mix. The CFL’s existing import rule would be tossed, allowing all teams to be dominated by American players.

But worse than that, two of the things that make the CFL so unique and beloved by purists might disappear for good – namely the three-down game and the bigger field. If the thought of a merger ever comes to the table, will CFL executives sell their soul and cave to the established American game? Will the CFL have to adapt to the XFL’s wacky rules? Will the traditional CFL summer-fall season give way to the XFL’s winter-spring season?

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Everything is pure speculation at this point and nothing has really been said about a merger, except by fans and media.

COVID-19 put the kibosh on both leagues’ seasons in 2020, delivering severe financial blows to both organizations. The XFL’s season was interrupted shortly after it began, and the CFL’s season was cancelled entirely. There is no 2021 XFL campaign, and the 2021 CFL season is still up in the air.

More speculation – if the CFL season is a go, wrapping up with its traditional late-November time slot, what will this mean if a merger indeed happens and a combined league opts for a winter-spring season? It won’t be much of an off-season for many of the players.

The best that anyone knows at this time is that the two leagues are simply putting their heads together to figure out ways to grow the game as an alternative to the NFL.

We’ve already seen what the inclusion of American teams did for the CFL in the mid-1990s. It was essentially a disaster and cheapened the Canadian brand. The CFL came to its senses to begin the 1996 season, saying goodbye to the failed three-season experiment. Let’s hope that what’s brewing between the XFL and CFL isn’t a second coming of that.

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