Standing in his office at the University of British Columbia, head coach Blake Nill isn’t shy about pointing out the Vanier Cup trophy sitting on the shelf behind him.
It’s one of three national championships that he’s won in seven trips to big game in little more than two decades of Canadian university football, rendering him uniquely qualified to talk about the state of football in this country.
When it comes to the rampant speculation regarding a merger between the CFL and XFL and the potentially seismic changes to the game he loves, Nill tries not to spend too much time thinking about it. Still, he knows where he falls on the matter.
“I really think that our all game has grown substantially during my career. The athletes are three and four times the caliber that they were 25 years ago. I hope that we hold fast, that we recognize that Canadian football has a place in our history and in our country,” Nill told Darren Dupont on The Rod Pedersen Show.
“I know all of my colleagues at the university level, we just keep getting better and there’s no better example than those six teams playing Canada West football. I’m hoping that they stick to the three-down game and we continue to move in that direction.”
The owners of both the XFL and CFL have agreed to work together to identify opportunities for innovating and growing the game of football. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson has stated he’s excited for the ‘unique opportunity’ the CFL and XFL ‘can potentially create together.’
The original XFL lasted one full season in 2001 and part of just one season before the COVID-19 pandemic put their 2020 season on hold, which led to Vince McMahon filing for bankruptcy and selling to Johnson, Dany Garcia, and RedBird Capital. Meanwhile, Grey Cup has been awarded for over 100 years in Canada.
A potential merger between the two leagues could see the elimination of the three-down game entirely in favour of an Americanized version, including a drastic reduction or removal of the Canadian ratio.
Few have produced more CFL talents in their time than Nill. Since arriving in Vancouver in 2015, the year of that Vanier Cup win, 20 Thunderbirds have been drafted by CFL teams, including three this year.
When it comes to Canadian content, Nill is reminded of an interaction he once had with Canadian Football Hall of Famer and former Calgary Stampeders owner John Forzani while coaching at the University of Calgary.
“John Forzani used to sit in the end zone and watch us practice — his son played for me with the Dinos — and one day he came up to me and he goes ‘you know Blake, I can make a lot of money with you Canadian kids.,’” he recalled.
“That made me smile because John recognized the talent level of Canada West football and of Canadian university athletes.”
Those coming from the XFL may not have that same appreciation, but Nill is remaining focused on the primary task of getting his team back on the field in 2021. He’s excited that the Canada West has unveiled a new schedule after a canceled 2020 season and while there are hurdles still overcome, hopes that professional Canadian football will be back as well.
“We all want to see the CFL land on its feet and have a big year. I think it’s important that we get that league going and them supported any way we can,” he said.
“I’m really hoping that there’s a CFL season come this fall, which I’m confident there will be.”