The Ex-FL

Canadians succeed at lots of things we fail at, so why not let them have another go with American pro football?

American CFL franchise helmets via Milton Hooper.

I’m not smart or rich but it seems like the XFL’s pending bankruptcy is the perfect time for the Canadian Football League to expand into America...again.

From 1993 to 1996, the CFL fielded new and relocated teams in Baltimore, Birmingham, Las Vegas, Memphis, Sacramento, San Antonio, and Shreveport. The CFL’s American expansion failed but 25 years on the league is busy building player development alliances with Mexico’s LFA, Japan’s X-League and various European “American football” clubs.

From where I sit, one of the only weird decisions the XFL made was to situate most of its teams in NFL markets. Conversely, I think one of the smart things the Alliance of American Football did was launch six of its eight teams in markets without pro football: Birmingham, Memphis, Orlando, Salt Lake, San Antonio, San Diego.

Yes, it was 25 years ago but four of those AAF markets used to be CFL markets. Wouldn’t it be poetic if the CFL bought equipment from the defunct XFL and sent that equipment back to XFL and AAF cities?

Wouldn’t it be fun if the CFL brought its 110x65 yard field back to Birmingham, Memphis, Sacramento and San Antonio? Wouldn’t it be cool if fans in San Diego and St. Louis had teams to root for again? 

Wouldn’t it be interesting to see if pro football could work in Orlando and Salt Lake if it had a longer runway? Don’t you think the citizens of OKC and Tulsa would buy tickets for a summer ball game in Edmond or Norman?

Coincidentally, Birmingham, Orlando, Sacramento, and San Antonio were original members of the NFL-owned World League of American Football, a spring developmental league that morphed into what most of us remember as NFL Europe. Birmingham, Memphis, Oklahoma and Orlando were homes to United States Football League teams in the early to mid 80s. Birmingham and San Antonio also fielded teams during the World Football League’s two season run in the mid 70s.

All that to say there’s nearly 50 years of failure to dissuade someone from launching an American spring or summer football league to compete with or even complement The Shield. And yet…

Each league saw the same potential in certain markets. And the economics of pro sports are changing rapidly, as evidenced by the AAF’s betting app and XFL commentators’ discussion of betting lines and NFL games being streamed by Twitter and Amazon.

You can’t tell me that between the Big Four broadcasters, Disney, Amazon, Google and the NFL Network there isn’t anyone out there interested in having more “exclusive content”? Again, this wouldn’t be a fly-by-night operation, it would be an expansion of a 70-year-old professional league.

A CFL return to the U.S. market (when, you know, games could be played) creates that content American broadcasters and streaming services want to reel you in with and gives degenerate gamblers one more thing to bet on.

This kind of expansion would balance an uneven nine-team league, creating cross-border balance. It would probably require the CFL to end its season earlier than it does now, lest it lose Oklahoman eyeballs to NFL games in Dallas, Denver and Kansas City.

But other than that, it makes more sense to me to have pro football in Oklahoma than pro hockey in Las Vegas, which shows you how much I know.