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WELCOME BACK, XFL. WELL, KIND OF.

By Scotty Mincher

 

The first (shortened) season of the XFL rebirth has wrapped up. There is much that the league has to learn as it tries to grow and become a solid spring and professional league to compete with and excel alongside the NFL. The teams completed week one with two games on Saturday and two on Sunday. The D.C. Defenders, Houston Roughnecks, New York Guardians and St. Louis BattleHawks each won their games. That means the Seattle Dragons, Los Angeles Wildcats, Tampa Bay Vipers and Dallas Renegades Have roughly two months to turn things around before the playoffs. We’ll get to some of the early winners and losers of the new XFL. But before we do, Let’s refresh our readers’ memories with some history regarding the league. The XFL is a professional American football league owned by Vince McMahon‘s Alpha Entertainment and is headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut. It is the successor to the original XFL, which was controlled by the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE) and NBC, and ran for a single season in 2001. The league follows a similar structure as the original XFL did in 2001, with eight teams, centrally owned and operated by the league (as opposed to the franchise model, with each team having different ownership groups) and spread across the United States in markets currently or recently represented by a National Football League (NFL) franchise, competing in a ten-game season and a two-week postseason in the winter and spring months, after Super Bowl LIV.

In announcing the reformed XFL, McMahon stated that while it would share its name and trademark with the previous incarnation, it would not rely on professional wrestling-inspired features and entertainment elements as its predecessor did, instead of aiming to create a league with fewer off-field controversies and faster, simpler play compared to the NFL. In the 2017 ESPN 30 for 30 documentary This Was the XFL, McMahon openly mused about reviving the XFL, noting that changes would need to be made compared to 2001 in order to make it viable and relevant in the modern era. McMahon had purchased the trademarks of the United Football League and an alternative brand, “UrFL” (Your Football League), in early 2017. The following year, the director of the documentary, Charlie Ebersol (son of Dick Ebersol), would go on to help form the Alliance of American Football (AAF) in 2018, hoping to beat the revived XFL to play. While the league was able to launch in 2019, a year before the XFL’s first season, it went bankrupt before its first season finished after it twice lost its major investors. On December 15, 2017, Bleacher Report columnist Brad Shepard reported that McMahon was seriously considering a revival of the XFL, with an expected announcement on January 25, 2018. In a statement to Deadspin, WWE did not confirm or deny the rumors, but did state that McMahon was establishing a new company known as Alpha Entertainment, which would “explore investment opportunities across the sports and entertainment landscapes, including professional football.” On December 21, 2017, WWE issued a filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission, stating that McMahon had sold $100 million worth of WWE stock to fund Alpha Entertainment. Alpha Entertainment is headquartered next door to WWE headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut. On January 25, 2018, Alpha Entertainment announced a new incarnation of the XFL, which would begin with a 10-week inaugural season beginning in January or February 2020. In a press conference, McMahon stated that the new XFL would be dissimilar to its previous incarnation, stating that “There’s only so many things that have ‘FL’ on the end of them and those are already taken. But we aren’t going to have much of what the original XFL had.” McMahon stated that the league would feature eight teams as a single entity owned by Alpha (the previous XFL was also a single-entity league), which had been revealed in 2019.

Alpha Entertainment was established in order to keep the league’s management and operations separate from that of WWE. McMahon is prepared to invest as much as $500 million, five times as much as his investment in the 2001 XFL. The XFL’s decision to nix cheerleaders is in part due to changing attitudes regarding women’s participation in entertaining sports fans. He liquidated an additional $270 million in WWE stock (representing a 4% stake in WWE) in March 2019 to provide additional funding for the league. The XFL discourages political gestures by players during games such as, for example, taking a knee in protest. McMahon also originally planned to forbid any player with a criminal record from participating (Commissioner Oliver Luck later walked back the latter decision, noting that the policy had not yet been finalized, and stated in April 2019 that it would allow its teams to sign Johnny Manziel, who was convicted of domestic violence in 2016. Manziel nonetheless was excluded from the inaugural draft and player allocations, with the league later stating that it had “no interest” in him.) Felony convictions are still a disqualification. McMahon justified his intentions by stating that the XFL would be “evaluating a player based on many things, including the quality of human being they are”, and that “people don’t want social and political issues coming into play when they are trying to be entertained”. He suggested that players who wish to express political opinions should do so on their personal time. Luck stated in October 2018 that the ban on protesting during the national anthem would be written into player contracts as a condition of employment and that the stipulation was McMahon’s idea; Luck agreed that the league aimed to be as non-political as possible. McMahon did not initially reveal any specific details on rule changes that the new XFL would feature but did state that he aimed to reduce the length of games to around two hours (in contrast to the standard in American football, which generally runs slightly over three hours). The league later revised this to a two-and-a-half-hour target length. Later, when announcing new changes to overtime rules, it was implied that television broadcasts would have three-hour time slots, into which the entire game and overtime would fit. Test games resulted in an average game time of 2 hours and 40 minutes with a comparable number of plays to an NFL game. He also noted that by announcing it two years in advance (unlike the original XFL, which was only announced one year in advance), there would also be more time to prepare the league in order to deliver a more desirable product. On June 5, 2018, Oliver Luck was named the league’s commissioner and chief executive officer. Luck left his previous positions with the NCAA to take over the operations of the XFL.

There’s a little bit on the rebuild of the new XFL, as well as what will continue to make it a different and unique brand of football that’s once again spearheaded by Vince Mcmahon. Like with any sports league, there are things I like and dislike about the early stages of the reborn XFL. I feel the NFL should definitely adopt the XFL’s replay transparency. The AAF also pushed this hard a year ago and it was a big success. The ability to see and hear exactly what’s going on in the replay booth makes for interesting television. More importantly, though, it’s not hiding anything. Given the amount of heat the NFL takes regarding its officials and its review process, it would benefit them to seriously consider it. It’s easy to do and it makes the broadcast, and product, better. I also like the kickoff rule and unlike the NFL, It completely maximizes the chances for a big return and decreases the chances of big collusion because players don’t sprint as far down the field to make a tackle as they do in the NFL. As far as what I don’t like about the league. mistakes, turnovers, penalties, negative plays, and general miscues are the type of things that make casual fans lose interest quickly. Granted, every team needs a few weeks to work out the kinks. And not every team is going to have a great quarterback. Understanding those things are essential to enjoying this league. The drop-off in quarterback talent and consistency is also cause for concern. But give the XFL this: the product is further ahead in its early stages than what many expected it would be. No one knows how much stability and staying power the XFL will have this time around. But as an enormous fan of the game of football, I wish it nothing but the best and unlike the old league, Hopefully, fans can enjoy it not just in 2020, But for many years to come!

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