CFL, XFL jointly decide against pursuing formal partnership

Tim explains why it's time for Canadian football fans to put their money where their mouth is as the CFL ends any potential partnership talks with the XFL.

The CFL-XFL partnership talks have come to an end.

In March, the CFL and XFL announced they were poised to begin serious talks about a potential partnership. Neither side said who initiated talks first, only that they’d agreed to collaborating on ways to grow football.

But that came to an end Wednesday.

“Our talks with the XFL, exploring the potential for collaboration and innovation, have been positive and constructive,” CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said in a statement. “While we remain open to finding new ways to work together in the future, we and our XFL counterparts have jointly decided to not pursue any formal arrangements at this time.

“We at the CFL are now squarely focused on preparing for Aug. 5 and the start of our 2021 regular season, which will culminate Dec. 12 with the playing of the 108th Grey Cup in Hamilton. We are looking forward to this year and a bright future for our league.”

The CFL didn’t play in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s scheduled to begin a 14-game campaign Aug. 5.

Training camps are slated to open Saturday.

“While our discussions with the CFL did not immediately lead to a collaboration, the effort reinforced our belief and commitment to developing the XFL for international spring football,” the XFL said in a statement. “We look forward to seeing everyone for kickoff in spring of 2023.”

The CFL’s announcement, though, was welcomed by the Edmonton Elks.

“The Edmonton Elks Football Club is pleased by Wednesday’s announcement by the CFL that discussions with the XFL have ended,” the team said in a statement. “The Elks remain fully committed to the CFL and our treasured brand of Canadian Football.”

News that the CFL and XFL were talking in March made headlines across North America. Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, an actor and former pro wrestler, is a co-owner of the XFL and one of the world’s most recognized figures with 251 million Instagram followers.

“Wherever it all leads, I can tell you this one is personal to me and is driven by all my passion — because being cut by the CFL was the greatest thing that happened,” Johnson wrote at the time on his Instagram account. “It set me on a path that years later would lead me right back to the league.

“As an owner who’s had his hands in the dirt — my loyalty will always lie with the players and fans. I’ll keep you posted as our XFL/CFL discussions unfold. I got your back. So yes, the CFL changed my life, in ways I never could’ve imagined.”

Johnson purchased the XFL last year with business partner Dany Garcia and RedBird Capital for US$15 million. The expectation was it would resume play in the spring of 2022 but later pushed that back to 2023.

Johnson played football collegiately at Miami. The former defensive lineman aspired to play in the NFL but upon graduation in 1995 joined the Stampeders before being released from the practice roster.

Afterward, Johnson followed in the footsteps of his late Canadian-born father, Rocky and entered professional wrestling. He joined WWE in 1996, becoming The Rock, before embarking on a successful acting career.

But a potential partnership with the XFL — and a resulting change in the Canadian game and rules — drew the ire of a host of CFL fans, many of whom flocked to social media to express their disdain with the talks.

The XFL has enjoyed a brief, troubled history.

It was first introduced in February 2000 by wrestling executive Vince McMahon and Dick Ebersol, then the chairman of NBC Sports. It was promoted as as a fun alternative to the NFL but the league lasted only one year (2001).

McMahon resurrected the XFL in 2020 with eight teams. But it ceased operations after just five weeks of play due to the COVID-19 pandemic and filed for bankruptcy April 13.

The league has always had a CFL flavour to it. In 2001, longtime CFL head coach/GM Jim Barker was the offensive co-ordinator of the champion L.A. Xtreme, its roster featuring quarterback Scott Milanovich — who would become a head coach in the CFL with Toronto and Edmonton — and longtime punter Noel Prefontaine.

And in 2020, it had two former CFL head coaches with Tampa Bay’s Marc Trestman (Grey Cup champion head coach with Montreal and Toronto) and Houston’s June Jones (Hamilton).

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