The XFL: Can It Survive?

On August 21, 2019, the XFL got one step closer to legitimacy as a professional football league. Its eight teams now all have names, and in a couple months, the league will hold its inaugural draft to fill the rosters. All of this work is the foundation leading up to next February, when the league plans to play its first-ever regular season games.

There is a natural rush of excitement that comes with this news. Once again, there is an alternative to the NFL juggernaut. More eyes are on the league. Further information will allow fans to piece together what this new vision for the XFL is. However, there is one inescapable question that needs to be asked: can the XFL survive?

The story of the XFL is well-documented at this point. The first rendition of the league went under after one season due to an over-reliance on sports entertainment aspects (WWE chairman Vince McMahon spearheaded the league, so that probably should have been expected,) poor TV ratings, and breakdowns in broadcast negotiations. There were a few players to come out of the league such as Tommy Maddox, Steve Gleason, and Rod “He Hate Me” Smart, but for the majority of the players, this was their last run with professional football. The XFL is not the only secondary football league to disband, however, as the United Football League and Alliance of American Football ended up joining them on the path of the dodo bird.

With no league outside of the NFL being able to stick, what should make any reasonable person believe the second coming of the XFL is any different? There is a clear divide between the NFL and college football, so a developmental system existing between the two sounds like a good idea. The MLB has a whole minor league system, the NBA has the G-League, and the NHL has the AHL, ECHL, and leagues all across the world. A “minor league” for the NFL makes sense as another gateway for prospective players, but how can it work?

McMahon and XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck think they have a solution. For one, this XFL is straying away from its flashy and loud predecessor, eschewing the professional wrestling-style bells and whistles for a simpler, faster-paced game. Ideas such as a shortened play clock, modifications to play calling, and a shootout overtime format should help in that regard. Another change is that the XFL is electing to take its time in crafting its vision, unlike the AAF. The AAF, fearing that competition would put it behind the eight ball early, announced it would start playing games just one year after its inception. The idea backfired dramatically, and the AAF could not get through one season before closing down due to serious financial issues. The XFL is taking a different approach, waiting a couple years and getting the beginning logistics all sorted out before going forward.

That kind of long-term thinking is reflected in the XFL’s draft pool. There will be a seperate pool of eight quarterbacks eligible for selection by the teams, the first of which has been revealed to be former NFL backup Landry Jones. Outside of that, however, there is a pool of almost 900 eligible players waiting to be drafted. Some names that leap off the page include former NFL players Trent Richardson, Hakeem Nicks, Robert Meachem, Dexter McCluster, and Fred Davis. There is also a possibility that the XFL looks at being a viable option for college players, as well, but nothing has been established on that front as of this writing. If it does come through, however, the XFL’s talent pool will be deeper and the league can establish itself as a direct feeder to the NFL, strengthening its reputation and giving it more attention.

There is no silver bullet strategy for the XFL to follow, and there’s no guarantee this rendition of the league is going to be any more successful than the first go-around. With that said, it’s reassuring that the league is choosing not to rush things and embracing a more methodical approach. McMahon seems to be willing to exercise much more patience with the XFL than other leagues have, a point of view that could potentially pay huge dividends later.

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