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NBC gives XFL instant credibility


By PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

 Talk about starting up a new football league in the U.S., and you'll get laughed at.

 Announce you're going to be playing a spring schedule to avoid going head-to-head with the NFL, and the skeptics will still far outnumber the believers.

 But bring one of the three major American TV networks on board, and, Presto! -- instant credibility.

 That's what wrestling promoter Vince McMahon achieved yesterday when he announced NBC-TV was becoming an equal partner with the World Wrestling Federation's new XFL.

 BLIP GETTING BIGGER

 "If they were a blip on the radar screen, the blip is getting bigger and it's getting closer to the centre," CFL president Jeff Giles said. "I said from the beginning, 'Never underestimate Vince McMahon,' and today proves it."

 In a move that took football observers by surprise, the XFL paired up not with a cable network, but with a broadcaster with a proven track record in football. For years NBC carried NFL games, before falling out of the bidding two years ago.

 "I would never have expected they would have a deal with NBC," Giles said. "With this deal their credibility and legitimacy has been markedly improved."

 In announcing the deal with NBC, worth a reported $30 million, McMahon used terms like "juggernaut" and "powerhouse" to describe the new partnership. Around the CFL, people were listening.

 "Now it looks to me like they're serious," Winnipeg Blue Bomber head coach Dave Ritchie said. "I would say TV is the thing that swings it. TV swings it in any league, really. How you do on TV determines whether you make a profit or not."

 And profits mean healthy player salaries. Word is, the average XFL player will earn $70,000 U.S., (around $100,000 Cdn), when the league begins play next February.

 The average CFL salary is around $60,000, Cdn.

 "That will create a challenge for us," Giles said. "If they're playing football this time next year, the way our football players approach negotiations will change ... we will lose some of our players to that league. The challenge for coaches and general managers will be to find replacements."

 The CFL already competes for players with three indoor leagues in the States, and with NFL Europe. The addition of the XFL could mean jobs for 400 more players.

 "That's a lot more players," Ritchie said. "You'll have to dig harder."

 SIGNINGS: The Bombers announced four more signings yesterday, three of them CFL rookies: Canadian slotback Ryan Wilkinson (University of Waterloo), import offensive lineman Brandon Dyson (Utah State) and import linebacker/long snapper Ryland Wickman (Cal State-Sacramento).

 Import receiver Albert Johnson III (Southern Methodist) spent some time with the Saskatchewan Roughriders last year.