Williams offers CFL no long-term benefit

ERIN NICKS -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:47 AM ET

American attention paid to the CFL is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, as there are no U.S. teams in the league, and therefore no American audience to placate.

But Americans are talking about this league, as are Canadians right now. And the potential player they're both discussing is a known and controversial one: Ricky Williams.

Williams and the CFL have been linked together for some time, and finally the talk has taken on a legitimate tone, with the path being cleared for Ricky's arrival by the Miami Dolphins.

Williams was suspended by the NFL for violating the league's substance abuse policy for a fourth time -- his suspension will keep him out of the Dolphins' lineup for the entire 2006 season. After his suspension was confirmed, the Argonauts added Williams to their negotiations list, and it's likely that Toronto is where the troubled running back will end up.

The only sticking point holding back the deal seems to be an assurance from the Argonauts that they will release Williams after one year, allowing him to return to the NFL and the Dolphins.

Talk about your lose-lose situations.

Williams has created that elusive trait that the CFL desperately requires: Buzz. The discussion of such a known player coming to Canada has helped keep the league's name in regular rotation on many of the sports highlight shows. An admirable feat, considering we're in the middle of the NHL playoffs.

Let's assume that Ricky will be wearing an Argos uniform this year -- what kind of effect will he have on attendance and television ratings?

It's extremely difficult for one player to make a difference, especially to a number of potential fans on the fringes of the sport.

For me, I'll put the over/under at two games potentially watched. And remember, that's for me. (If you're smart, take the under.)

None of this uproar must please the CFL's traditionalists. They likely view Ricky's arrival as a distraction and publicity stunt. They won't believe that he's committed to the league, and they'll reference that he's likely to steal a job from another CFL player, regardless of whether Williams is the superior running back.

Williams entered last year's season with the Dolphins late, due to a four-game suspension from an earlier substance-abuse offence. But he still made an impact, in spite of sharing his carries with rookie Ronnie Brown. Williams ran for 743 yards and six touchdowns.

And therein lies another problem: Ricky's potential. Even after the last suspension, and time spent away from the sport (which seemed to involve excessive beard growing and remaining "Zen-like"), Williams returned and demonstrated that he could still play.

A player of his talent could tear up some of the league's most notoriously unnatural turfs -- breaking records left and right, while leaving awed defenders in his wake.

But then what? Miami will come calling, and Williams will answer.

Only one year of excitement and a potential demonstration of superior athleticism. It will do nothing but cement the realization that CFL players are inferior to their NFL counterparts.

The buzz will grow even louder once Williams finally arrives in Canada. But he won't make a difference to the CFL as a whole -- even if he was capable of doing so, he won't be in the league long enough to create a lasting impact.

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erinnicks@yahoo.ca


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