With February forcing its way into our lives this weekend, it brings with it one of the most momentous occasions in the sport of football. The XFL returns on Feb. 8.
This is owner Vince McMahon’s second attempt at creating the league, but this iteration will be nothing like 2001’s one-hit wonder. This isn’t the loud, brash league that tried to turn football into a wrestling match. This isn’t presenting viewers with a bastardized version of the sport. For McMahon, this is his attempt to prove that football can be attractive after the Super Bowl.
Last year, the Alliance of American Football failed before its first season ended but was doomed from the beginning. Most teams were located in small markets while the league struggled to pay its creditors. In fact, no other league has ever succeeded against the NFL.
But McMahon is prepared to usher in an improved league to American homes. It starts with a $500 million investment — all out of his wallet. To lead the league, McMahon hired Oliver Luck, who served as the president and general manager of the MLS’ Houston Dynamos and is a former NCAA executive.
The eight teams are located in Los Angeles, Houston, New York, Dallas, Seattle, Washington D.C., Tampa and St. Louis, and each roster has 52 players.
For obvious reasons, this league will lack the star power of the NFL, unless you’re a fan of Marc Trestman, Bob Stoops, Cardale Jones, Landry Jones and Matt McGloin. It’s hard to imagine front offices convincing Dak Prescott to take a substantial pay cut to play in their league. But they’re not expecting to do so. Rather, they’re hoping their current crop of players can produce attractive football while they wait for younger players to trickle into their league over time.
That’s because they’re in no rush to create eligibility rules, which opens up the possibility of high school and college athletes to play. With fully guaranteed contracts, the XFL 2.0 could be a viable option for athletes who want to prepare for the NFL while earning a paycheck. Though the $55,000 average salary is far less than the NFL, it’s 55,000 reasons to forgo spending three years unpaid.
The XFL will breathe new life into the sport. The NFL has not been short of complaints by fans over its length of play and rules, and that’s where Luck hopes to attract his league’s fanbase.
Teams won’t flip a coin for their first possession, the home team will decide whether they want to receive or kick the ball. Coaches won’t be able to challenge plays, multiple players will have headsets in their helmets to limit huddles, there is a dedicated ball-spotter, the play clock is 25 seconds and there will be a running game clock; all to keep the games’ lengths under the NFL’s average of 3 hours.
It will allow double-forward passes in an effort to promote scoring. Speaking of scoring, teams can go for 1, 2 or 3 points after a touchdown. Overtime will be a best of five, where teams have one chance from their opponents’ five-yard line to score — no games end in ties and both teams have a chance to touch the ball.
Lastly, they simplified the rule for a catch. For a catch to be ruled complete, a player has to: secure control of a live ball before the ball touches the ground, touch the ground in bounds with any part of his body and lastly maintain control of the ball long enough to perform an act common to the game. Finally providing clarity for fans and Dez Bryant.
The XFL is not just a billionaire’s spending spree. Luck used the word gesamtkunstwerk (meaning “total work of art”) to describe the league, and he’s not completely delusional in doing so. It’s football that’s been streamlined to produce an attractive product for viewers that remains familiar.
Follow Christian on Twitter @unofficialchris and contact him at [email protected].