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  • Thursday, March 30, 2000

    WWF pins CFL hopes

    By ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

     The World Wrestling Federation fired an arrow through the sports world yesterday that landed directly in the CFL's heart.

     The wrestling circuit announced a 50-50 partnership with NBC that will see Xtreme Football League games aired Saturday nights, adding instant credibility to a league many thought would never come to pass.

     And for an upstart league that plans on promoting personality, intensity, attitude and emotion, it was only fitting Canada's top WWF official leveled a few "I-told-you-so" taunts towards the CFL, which rejected the opportunity to be the WWF's tag-team partner.

     "This is the future they lost," said Carl DeMarco, president of WWF Entertainment Canada.

     "The WWF could have been the CFL's white knight. Seven out of eight teams lose money and surveys show the fans don't care -- they really dropped the ball. Everybody mocked the WWF and Vince McMahon and he just proved everybody wrong."

     Ironically, the eight-team winter league that will likely strip the CFL of all its top players, was born last year when CFL president Jeff Giles approached De Marco about the possibility of buying the Toronto Argos. In true wrestling fashion, turnabout became fair play as De Marco and WWF boss Vince McMahon responded by trying to buy the whole league and use it as the base for a 16-team loop that would meld the best of CFL and NFL rules. Worried the takeover would spell the end of a Canadian institution, several CFL governors instantly rejected the proposal.

     "I don't think this is going to ruin the CFL -- the CFL is ruining itself," said De Marco, whose league has already received more than 1,000 player resumes despite the fact it doesn't kick off until Feb. 3, 2001.

     "The people who run the league need to be empowered to run it. When eight people have to make decisions for the league, opportunities like this get missed. I don't want to see the CFL go out of business, but they've got to look internally and get rid of people who think the old way. Times are changing. The CFL does not know how to make stars. We could've helped them with that."

     While Wall Street was busy applauding the deal and boosting the WWF's stock price yesterday, Giles was busy, as always, trying to ensure all eight teams are stable enough to begin play this year.

     "Am I a little envious they made an announcement today with a major broadcaster like NBC? That would have been nice," said Giles. "But I think the price we would have had to pay was a little too high."

     Giles pointed out the board of directors who voted against the WWF's proposal were uncomfortable giving McMahon complete control as he'd likely relocate small-market clubs in search of higher local TV ratings. They were also unhappy with his plans to change several rules, including the addition of a fourth down.

     Calgary Stampeders owner Sig Gutsche tried to put a positive spin on the news, saying anything that promotes football is good for the CFL. Because the XFL season will end in April, long before the CFL season starts, Gutsche said they aren't competitors.

     However, what will hurt the CFL is the southern migration of top stars who will undoubtedly have to sign exclusive XFL contracts, prohibiting them from playing elsewhere during the summer or fall.

     "The CFL has asked us about that and we're looking at it," said De Marco of the contracts. "Once the WWF makes these people big stars, we don't want others to capitalize on that."

     The XFL vows to pay players more than CFLers and less than NFLers, with bonuses for wins.

     Six cities have already been awarded franchises and two others will be announced by the end of next month.



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