Former Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo, who lives in Reno during the offseason, is preparing for an on-time start to the Canadian Football League, but the truth is neither Fajardo nor anybody else is sure when the season will start.
"I got an email from our coach about two weeks to prepare for a May 10 start date," Fajardo said on Tuesday's NSN Daily. "That's the normal time we'd report to camp. Obviously a lot of things can change, but from what I've heard, Canada has been slow rolling out the vaccine. We might be a little delayed because I know that game one they want to have fans in the stands. If training camp has to be delayed a month due to that, that's a big reason. It's tough as a player.
"You read the XFL-CFL merger news and none of us players even knew anything about it. That kind of just came out of left field. You're scrambling being asked questions about the XFL-CFL merger, and I don't even know if we're going to play a season, let alone a merger. To have 'The Rock' Johnson as one of partners is probably a good place to be. He understands it, he's gone through it and from what I've read about what he's been saying, he cares a lot about the fans and the players, so I could see him making it a very player-friendly league if that happened."
Despite being bullish on Johnson, the former football-player-turned-wrestling-star-turned-movie-star-turned-successful-business-man, Fajardo said he'd be against a full-time merger between the CFL and XFL. The CFL, founded in 1958, is made up of nine teams, all based in Canada. The XFL has had two iterations, in 2001 and 2020, most recently folding halfway through its return season last year due to the pandemic.
Johnson and his ex-wife Dany Garcia, a successful CEO, purchased the XFL for $15 million from Vince McMahon last August with a plan to return to action for the 2022 season. The eight-team league, all based in the United States, has discussed a potential merger with the CFL, but Fajardo said that's not in the best interest of his league.
"I think it dilutes the CFL without a doubt," Fajardo said. "There's a lot of logistical things that people don't really think about. You have to think about the rule changes. You have to think about the Canadian ratio. You have to think of the currency the players get paid in. You have to think about going across the border for games and back."
The CFL mandates at least 21 of the 44 players on the roster be Canadian. The CFL also has 12 players on the field rather than 11 in American football and allows only three downs per possession rather than four. There are several other differences between the CFL and XFL that would have to be sorted out if there was a merger. But conforming the CFL to American rules would be a huge risk and take away the uniqueness of the Canadian game that long-time fans are accustomed to.
Additionally, the leagues play during different times of the year, with the XFL not wanting to go up against college football or the NFL and the CFL not wanting to go up against the NHL playoffs. The CFL runs from June-November; the XFL from February-April.
One of the pros to combining forces would be less competition for players between the leagues, and a merger could increase ratings for both leagues since there would be increased interest on both sides of the border. The CFL had expansion teams in the U.S. from 1993-95 in Las Vegas, Baltimore, Birmingham, Memphis, San Antonio, Shreveport and Sacramento before those teams ultimately disbanded.
"They did have a USA expansion CFL league," Fajardo said. "There were some U.S. teams in the CFL. That kind of blew up. It wasn't very good. But those are a lot of logistical things they didn't really think about."
While Fajardo is against a full-time merger, he does believe a championship game between the league's two best teams is something worth pursuing.
"The best-case scenario that I think would work is keeping the CFL game the same, keeping the XFL game the same and now the winner of the CFL and the winner of the XFL play each other in kind of a league versus league championship, and it alternates each year," Fajardo said. "One year you have to play the CFL rules, one year you have to play the XFL rules. I just think logistically that's a lot of work to put in to figure out what's going to stay and what's going to change to merge a U.S. football league to a Canadian Football League."
Since a decision on a potential merger wouldn't impact this season, Fajardo is more focused on getting ready for his second year in Saskatchewan. Fajardo had a breakout season in 2019, passing for 4,302 yards and 18 touchdowns while rushing for 611 yards and 10 more scores while being named a CFL All-Star. After falling short of the Grey Cup in 2019, Fajardo was disappointed by the 2020 season being shuttered due to COVID but is excited for the roster he'll work with this season, assuming it happens.
"Our GM, Jeremy O'Day, has done a tremendous job," Fajardo said. "It's hard for me to get super excited because last year on paper our team was stacked. We were the favorites to win the Grey Cup last year and we lost a lot of players because some teams gave them a little more money. We lost a few defensive guys that were big-time players for us in the 2019 season to make us a good team. Hopefully, what I've heard from our GM, he's brought in a lot of NFL talent, a lot of young guys who aren't true rookies. They're guys who have played in the NFL for a couple of years, so they have professional experience.
"He said training camp is going to be very competitive. I'm just excited for training camp. I used to take for granted training camp. I used to hate it. Every football player does. It's mentally exhausting, physically exhausting and now you're just eager to get back to training camp. It's the little things like that that you would miss. After being out of football for a year and a half, what I would give to get blindside hit in the back one more time because that's part of the game."
Fajardo has kept busy in Northern Nevada by training local high school quarterbacks. He also joined the Reno High staff this season as the Huskies' quarterbacks coach. Fajardo said teaching others how to play the position has improved his skills.
"I find myself mechanically so much more in tune when I coach it," Fajardo said. "A lot of these kids have some incredible questions that I'd never even think about or ask. They ask me and it challenges me to find an answer and lead them down the right path. A few times that's happened where I didn't have the answer right away and had to spend three or four hours studying or throwing the ball in the backyard by myself to figure out what I do, filming myself and sending it to them. A lot of little intricacies that I didn't notice that I'm learning about me as a quarterback through those guys. That's helped me become a much better quarterback."
Fajardo also participated in the Wolf Pack's NFL pro day earlier this month. He didn't do so for himself but threw so wide receivers Kaleb Fossum, Ben Putman and Dom Christian would have a chance to impress pro scouts. It was the first time Fajardo had thrown at Mackay Stadium in a while, and he said it got his competitive juices flowing for this season.
"It was a lot of fun, first and foremost, to throw competitively for the first time in a year and a half," Fajardo said. "That was really cool. The no-pressure situation was a lot of fun for me. By that, I mean I'm already under contract for another two years (in the CFL). Yes, I'm competitive and going out there to show the NFL, 'Why'd we miss on this guy?' but more importantly it was for the Nevada guys. I know how stressful and nervous you get for those situations. There was a lot of times, and I told the guys this, where I might throw a great ball and you drop it, I'm going to take the blame every time. I'm not the one trying out. You are. And I want to take all the blame. I've received a couple of compliments about how I handled that, but it's just because I was able to go there under contract and it felt good."