CFL commissioner Ambrosie says talks with XFL have centred around business, not rules

Despite heated social media discussion in Canada, talks between the CFL and XFL haven't addressed what rules could be implemented if the football leagues join forces.

The CFL and XFL announced jointly March 10 they were entering serious discussions about a potential partnership. The two sides stated they'd agreed to collaborate on how they could possibly grow football together.

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The announcement prompted many fans in Canada to voice concerns on social media about how a partnership could negatively impact the Canadian game. CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said Wednesday talks with the XFL have dealt with the financial logistics of a partnership and how they might work and not about such things as rules or field size.

"Right now, it's trying to understand how working together could lead to a better outcome for both leagues," Ambrosie said. "There's a lot of heavy lifting that has to be done to try to understand what the possibilities are.

"Right now we're trying to understand what the opportunity could look like. That work continues but it's being done in a very positive way."

News of the CFL/XFL talks made headlines across North America.. Actor Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, who spent time on the Calgary Stampeders' practice roster in 1995, is an XFL co-owner.

Johnson, also a former wrestler, purchased the American-based league last year with business partner Dany Garcia and RedBird Capital Partners for US$15 million. The XFL was expected to resume play next spring after shutting down in 2020 under a different ownership group, but those plans are on hold during its talks with the CFL.

"The bottom line for me is that talking with them just reinforces these are truly world-class people," Ambrosie said. "It's been a real passionate exploration of what we might do to improve the business for everybody and if we can do that, who knows?

"There's almost an infinite possibility of good outcomes but it's got to start with making sure we can improve our business model so it matches the quality of the game itself."

Ambrosie wouldn't divulge exactly what has been discussed. But he did say there's been no talk about the XFL providing the CFL with money it could use to resume play this season after cancelling plans for an abbreviated 2020 campaign last August due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CFL announced Wednesday it was pushing back the start of the '21 campaign from June 10 to Aug. 5 and reducing its 18-game schedule to 14 because of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

"We are fundamentally addressing the business of our league and that's what in large part what this opportunity (with the XFL) is all about," Ambrosie said. "It's understanding if there's a way to improve our business model . . . so we can have a business that's as strong as the game and players themselves.

"Our game and players have always been stronger than the business of our league. You start with the business first, then you work backwards from there."

The CFL has spoken to the XFL predominantly on its own. Brian Ramsay, the executive director of the CFL Players' Association, said the union hasn't been involved because its priority remains getting its members back playing football.

"That's been the focus of our talks with the league," he said.

Ambrosie said neither the CFL nor the XFL have set deadlines regarding how long they'll continue talking.

"There's a real commitment to work together to see what's in the realm of possibility," Ambrosie said. "You must investigate all potential opportunities then put that all together and I think that will guide us to what is in the realm of possibilities.

"I think there is, without a doubt, a sense of urgency to try and advance our discussions."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 21, 2021.

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