Rob Vanstone: CFL types need to take a long, realistic look in the mirror

Rob Vanstone fears that a transition of the CFL to a four-down game would simply bring the league down for the count.

The Canadian Football League is facing a crisis of conscience.
Ever since the CFL issued a vague news release regarding its flirtation with the twice-failed XFL, various media reports have fuelled fears that what should be the essence of Canadian professional football will instead become disposable.
It seems as though the basic differentiator between Canadian football and the sport as it is played elsewhere in the world could very well be sacrificed in the event of a CFL-XFL alliance.
“The speculation and the suggestions I hear are that it would be a four-down game,” TSN’s well-connected Dave Naylor told Mark Nelson of

Naylor added: “Everybody in the U.S. prefers four-down football. It’s what they know, what they like. And there’s a significant number of people in Canada that prefer four-down football.”

The XFL, of course, plays four-down football — when it isn’t folding, that is.

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The extent and nature of the relationship with the XFL’s new principals — Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, Dany Garcia and RedBird Capital — has not been adequately explained by CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie, who nonetheless keeps paying lip service to “transparency.”

Hence the rampant speculation, not to mention trepidation, about where the league is going.

Ambrosie is a champion of the international model, as evidenced by the CFL 2.0 initiative that forces teams to dress token foreign players who typically become sideline statues. This, we are informed, is progress.

At least that formula, as flawed as it is, does not strike at the very heart of the game. But now, without any reassuring words from league headquarters, fans are left to wonder whether anything is non-negotiable.

“If you are going to take this league international, the global game is four downs,” Naylor said during the interview with Nelson.

The XFL is already at two downs, as in: Down for the count in 2001 and 2020.

THIS is the salvation of the CFL?

We keep hearing about the vast influence and resources of Johnson, et al. But a comparable description is applicable to WWE supremo Vince McMahon.

If a marketing maven such as McMahon cannot make it work — twice — the alarm bells should be deafening. Yet, the CFL forges ahead with … er, what, exactly?

“The CFL is at a fork in the road where it needs to either become a smaller league or a bigger league,” Naylor told Nelson.

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“A nine-team league with the budgets and the salaries, staffs and the numbers of players that they have right now may not be an option … I think if you’re talking about keeping the CFL Canadian, you’re talking about smaller budgets, smaller coaching staff, smaller rosters, smaller everything, and maybe a smaller number of teams.”

Therein lies part of the realistic solution. Surely, there is ample room for salary-slashing.

If you paid Mike Reilly, Bo Levi Mitchell, Trevor Harris and Cody Fajardo half of what they are to make in 2021, the remuneration of each quarterback would still be $200,000-plus. Nice work if you can get it.
Coaches, GMs, presidents and CEOs would also be comfortably into the six figures even if their salaries were halved. Actually, there is more fat to be trimmed when you look at the non-playing employees.
So what is the hesitation? Why the fixation with a league that has twice disintegrated into the Ex-FL?

Guardians of the CFL need to take a long, honest look in the mirror and realize who they are, where they are, and what they should represent.

COVID-19, which resulted in the cancellation of one season and may bring down another, has forced individuals and business owners across the nation to take stock of the situation and, if need be, scale down in order to survive — with every intention of building back up when the pandemic relents.
Why should the CFL be any different?

Check that. In one important context, the CFL should be different.

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Its style of play must remain distinctive. Failing that, Canadians will indeed watch four-down football — as it is played at the highest levels, in the NFL and NCAA.

The CFL, without a niche and an identity, will inevitably expire. But, in an Americanized form, would it even be missed or mourned?

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