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XFL debuts this weekend, introduces new (and odd) rules

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Is the latest spring pro football league being different for the sake of being different?  

XFL logo

The XFL, or should we say XFL 2.0, is set to debut Saturday and Sunday February 8 and 9, respectively, as a spring professional football league. The original XFL operated a single season in 2001 before imploding.

On Saturday, the Seattle Dragons travel to Washington to play the DC Defenders with a 2:00 pm (all times eastern) kickoff and televised by ABC. Later that evening, the Houston Roughnecks host the LA Wildcats at 5:00 pm on FOX. Sunday’s matchups include the NY Guardians at Tampa Bay Vipers on FOX beginning at 2:00 pm while the late game features the home town Dallas Renegades take on the St. Louis Battlehawks at 5:00 pm on ESPN.

All rosters were formulated from players who are not currently on National Football League (NFL) or Canadian Football League (CFL) rosters. Just like the AAF that played last spring and abuptly folded mid-season, the XFL at the current time is considered a “developmental” league and not an NFL or CFL rival league.

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Dallas head coach Bob Stoops
Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The coaches signed as head and position coaches are a formidable “Who’s Who”, or at the very least a “Who’s Was” list: Jerry Glanville, Bob Stoops, Jim Jeffcoat, Chris Miller, Pepper Johnson, June Jones, Jim Zorn, Winston Moss, Mike Riley, Chris Dishman, Tim Lewis, Martin Bayless and Marc Trestman.

With the AAF, however, the NFL and CFL embraced the league although neither invested any funds. Right out of the gate, the AAF stated their entire purpose was to give players an opportunity to play and develop. The problem was, except for the San Antonio franchise, the attendance each game was minimal and therefore the league could not financially sustain itself.

It is speculated that the XFL will in time become an NFL and CFL rival professional football league and set their sites on obtaining prized rookie players, veterans, coaches and front office personnel. But just like the AAF, the XFL is structured in that the league owns all clubs instead of individual team owners.

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Vince McMahon
Photo by George Napolitano/Getty Images

Vince McMahon, founder of the WWE wrestling empire and part owner of XFL1, is now under the belief that he has formulated the right plan and this time around will become successful. But how does he expect this version of himself to succeed when so many different leagues - including his much younger self - have come and gone?

Not only are the XFL rosters full of NFL and CFL rejects, but how does a secondary outdoor professional football league compete with NASCAR, Major League Baseball, March Madness plus NBA and NHL playoffs? Is McMahon’s $100 million budget going to be enough or just getting started? Will he eventually need to bring in investors? Or simply sell franchises to qualified team owners like every other major sports entity does despite his personal wealth listed on Forbes as $1.63 billion? Will fans invest in the idea of these teams when before the fanbase was left abandoned when the league folded?

The XFL will pay most of its players $55,000 a season with maximum total salaries capped at $257,244. An “exceptional player contract” is slated for $200,000. The minimum salary in the CFL is $65,000 whereas the NFL minimum is $480,000.

XFL 1

The XFL originally debuted in 2001 under similar circumstances as this year’s version.

The league and NBC Sports owned all clubs and their rosters were formed from NFL and CFL castoffs. This time around, however, McMahon is sole owner. The XFL had new rules and marketed itself as the NFL anti-league with harder hitting, skimpier cheerleader uniforms, rougher play, lack of receiver contact rules, grass-only playing fields, less penalties, and player interviews while the game was in progress.

World Wrestling Federation chairman Vince McMahon speaks to
February 2000: World Wrestling Federation chairman Vince McMahon speaks to the media to announce the creation of the XFL, a new professional football league to begin play in 2001.
Photo by Robert Rosamilio/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

McMahon was the brainchild and held 50% ownership in all clubs while NBC owned the other half. His thoughts on the XFL was sex and violence – and lots of it.

NBC, UPN and TNN televised all games around an eight-team league. Whereas this new 2020 lineup has all its teams in huge cities that have existing NFL clubs, the 2001 version utilized numerous medium markets such as Memphis, Birmingham, Orlando and Las Vegas to fit around Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and San Francisco.

The problem with the original XFL was two-fold. For one, the talent level was just not great and watching a game became difficult to observe. Secondly, McMahon was the head of another sport which has completely scripted results. Fans became suspicious that actual results would be altered to fit the standings’ competitive needs. The word “rigged” was often used by spectators and the media.

Famously, the players were allowed to pick out what to say on their jersey nameplate. Rod Smart, a running back with Las Vegas, had “He Hate Me” emblazoned on his jersey back. Later in the season, two players from division rival Los Angeles were seen with nameplates “I Hate He” and “I Hate He Too.” Later in the year in a rematch game, those same two players changed their jersey backs to “Still Hate He” and “Still Hate He Too.”

Opening weekend responded with a resounding 14 million viewers and a 9.5 Nielsen rating. In Week 2, that dropped to a 4.6 rating and then steadily declined every week.

The championship game was called “The Million Dollar Game” and literally had a million dollars on the premises in a case that would be distributed to the winning team. Despite the Orlando Rage’s league best 8-2-0 record, the Los Angeles Xtreme defeated the San Francisco Demons 38-6 for the cash.

There remains an aspect of the XFL in the NFL today as the “SkyCam” was an XFL original idea.

In the end, the XFL reportedly lost $35 million and with the lack of respect among the media, waining attendance and horrid TV ratings, the league quietly folded. ESPN rated the entity as the number 2 biggest sports flop. TV Guide made a list of the 25 Biggest TV Blunders and had the XFL as number 21. ESPN later produced a documentary on the league entitled This Was the XFL.

Yet another spring league

Spring football leagues are nothing new.

The United States Football League (USFL) was fairly successful from 1983-1985 and gave the NFL owners much grief by signing many of college football’s best talent which then subsequently raised player salaries. The league folded when Donald Trump, owner of the New Jersey Generals, talked the other owners into switching to a fall schedule. The problem was, most of the stadiums that were rented had a clause that prohibited a competitor to hold a lease during the same time period, so just about every USFL club had to find smaller venues, relocate or fold.

Demons v Xtreme X
2001 XFL - San Francisco Demons vs. Los Angeles Xtreme

The Arena Football League’s season was from February through July before it closed shop last year. There are several indoor football leagues still in existence that use the same timeline such as the Indoor Football League and Champions Indoor Football.

The AAF was a spring league which folded. The Stars Football League only lasted a single season with their schedule towards the end of spring. The Regional Football League also played a lone season in 1999 with a spring format. The American Football Association played a late spring to summer schedule from 1978-1983. The Spring League still operates for players hoping to get a second look, but really is more set up for scrimmage games than “a league” format.

New rules – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Every new sports league has to do something to set itself apart from the norm and call themselves different. The new XFL probably leads the pack in trying to make changes to the very core of the game itself.

Two league mandates are front-and-center. The XFL has stated that the league will not use any player which has a criminal background. Also, the league will not allow players to use their own political forums before, during or after games while at the stadium.

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The official XFL game ball
Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Currently, season ticket prices are cheap. A look at Houston’s plan has five home games for $100 to $250 a seat – for the entire season. So, a family of four could see every home game and only spend $400. Single game tickets on ticketmaster.com list for $90 a seat at the 50-yard line while corner end zone are just $36.

Kickoff

The ball must be kicked down to between the 20-yard line and the goal line, so no touchbacks. The kicking team lines up on their opponent’s 35-yard line while the receiving team lines up 5-yards away on their own 30. None of the kickoff coverage team (except the kicker) or the receiving team can move until the returner has cradled the ball or three seconds after the ball has touched the ground. Then, it’s game on. Onside kicks are the NFL old style, but get this: the kicking team has to divulge to the official of their attempt and no surprise attempts so that the teams can be reset to 10-yards apart. Whereas the NFL attempts to stymie the kickoff, the XFL is trying to enhance it.

Punt

Apparently, the XFL hates punting. A punt that lands in the end zone for a touchback or a punt that goes out-of-bounds inside their opponent’s 35 is brought out to the 35-yard line. The punting team cannot cross the line of scrimmage until the ball is kicked but can move laterally. This is an attempt to eliminate the fair catch and also make coaches more likely to go for it on fourth down.

Scoreboard clock - Play clock - Timeouts

Basically, the game clock does not stop except during the last two minutes of each half at normal NFL stoppage situations such as incomplete pass, out-of-bounds and timeouts; which each team only gets two per half instead of the NFL’s three. A 25-second play clock will be used, to begin once the ball is spotted. The NFL uses a 40-second play clock. The XFL is trying to cut down games from four hours to three-and-one-half hours.

Point after touchdown (PAT)

After scoring a touchdown, the team can decide on three options: one, two or three point attempts. First of all, just like in the AAF, there are no kicked PATs so a play must be called. A 1-point attempt will come from the two-yard line, a 2-point attempt from the five-yard line and a 3-point attempt will begin from the 10-yard line. If the defense gets a turnover on any of these attempts and is able to return it back the opposite direction for a score, they get the same amount of points the offense was trying to achieve. So any possession can ultimately become a 9-point swing.

Double-forward pass

Basically, one player can catch a forward pass anywhere behind the line, and still throw the ball downfield again as long as the first pass did not cross the line of scrimmage.

Receiver one foot inbounds and “catch” rules

The XFL seems to have simplified what is a catch: “Secures control of a live ball in flight before the ball touches the ground and then maintains control of the ball long enough to enable him to perform an act common to the game.” What is different is that they have gone the way of college football with only one foot required inbounds.

Replays - Halftime - Overtime

No coaches challenges. The league will have officials in the booth and will buzz down when they want to review something, otherwise, the game continues on. Halftime is reduced to 10 minutes. Just like the NFL, there are no ties in the XFL, but to settle the score they have devised a shootout scenario. Each offense gets five one-play possessions from the five-yard line, receive 2-points per positive score and then alternate plays, which is similar to soccer shootouts. The club with the most points after the five-round shootout is the winner.

Poll

Will you watch the XFL?

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    All season
    (110 votes)
  • 54%
    Some
    (238 votes)
  • 5%
    Just opening weekend
    (25 votes)
  • 13%
    Pass
    (60 votes)
433 votes total Vote Now

How the XFL can survive

At first, the XFL will need to have the appearance of a developmental league. The first year should be meant to lose as little capital as possible and not compete with the NFL or CFL and rely on their talent from waiver cuts of both leagues. At first, being anti-league will not be received well.

In year number two, it will need to sign some big-time college football names to help drive ticket sales up; and possibly offer larger contracts to NFL and CFL veteran players whose contracts are about to expire. If the XFL is to succeed, it will need to compete with the those other leagues on the player front in order to make the game more exciting and competitive.

By year three, it will need to dominate the signing of premier rookie players.

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Herschel Walker, New Jersey Generals Running Back, looks on as Donald Trump, NJ Generals Owner; makes the announcement of a new contract for Herschel Walker through the 1989 season; during a press conference held at Giants Stadium.
Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Here is some food for thought. Before the USFL’s existence, all players had to have completed their senior year of eligibility in order to play pro football. The USFL signed Georgia running back Herschel Walker as a junior to a huge contract. Shortly thereafter, the NFL was forced to allow juniors to forego their senior year and become drafted.

What if the XFL started signing sophomore and freshman players? There is nothing college football can do about it except what they do now and that is to take away any eligibility. The NFL would be tied down and not able to stop this league from these practices. The last thing the NFL would want is to create a “one-and-done” scenario that college basketball currently employs. The NFL and college football currently have a great working relationship in which the NFL does not step into college football’s arena, and college football does not interfere with high school football. That is why you don’t see any NFL games played on Saturdays until the Christmas break/finals when college football is not being played.

For college football athletes, this usually means three full years of playing football without getting any compensation whatsoever with the exception of stipends, which usually average $5,000 a season. What 18 or 19 would turn down say a $200,000 offer to play in the XFL?

If there was a lawsuit, who do you sue? The players? The player’s mom and dads for their sons suddenly getting paid? The agents? Eventually, this would create total chaos and an overflow of not-yet-ready talent. And what would be next?

High school seniors?