“T-Time” is a column by Trevor Denton about football.
When the XFL debuted in 2001, it embraced the wacky, entertaining side of football.
There were no kickoffs. To earn possession, two players literally fought for a football on the ground. Fair catches and kneel-downs weren’t allowed, creating some of the nastiest hits in the sport’s history. Nicknames like “He Hate Me” donned the backs of jerseys, giving the league an over-the-top persona that mirrored its parent company WWE.
That XFL folded after just one season. But it managed to stick around football fans’ consciousness due to its sheer absurdity and infamy.
20 years later, the XFL returns, and now it's all grown up. In an era of heightened concerns over player safety, the XFL will no longer start its games with fights to the death or allow savage hits to defenseless players. It will, however, attempt to provide fans and players with an alternative to the NFL.
As a proud Los Angeles Wildcats season ticket holder as of 48 hours ago, I can’t wait for the XFL season to kick off. The six-month stretch of the year without football is when I sink to my deepest of lows. One year, I started collecting rare acorns. In another, I kept up with The Bachelor for the first time in my life. Back in 2015, I watched an entire Major League Baseball game. I still haven’t recovered.
There are plenty of reasons why a second professional football league makes sense. According to the NCAA’s website, less than 2% of college football players make it to the NFL. That hasn’t stopped college football from being the third-most popular sport in America, according to a Harris Poll in 2016. There’s plenty of talent to sustain a second league. Players who devote their entire college experience to playing football deserve an opportunity to earn money for their craft.
The question will be if the XFL can last, unlike the Alliance of American Football, which folded midway through its inaugural 2019 season. Visibility wasn’t a problem for the AAF. Games consistently had 400,000 to 1 million viewers. For context, the average viewership for nationally televised NBA games was 1.28 million during the 2016-17 season.
As it turns out, there’s more to operating a successful football league than getting eyeballs. Operating costs and player salaries are expensive. Ever since the United States Football League folded in 1987, sustaining a spring football league has been an uphill battle. But like the youngest sibling in a household, the XFL has sat back and learned a few things from its predecessors.
For one, the XFL is keeping player salaries low, at an average of $55,000 per season. Compared to the nearly $90,000 AAF players were supposed to make, this move appears to be shortchanging players. The salary already caused former AAF and University of Tennessee defensive end Corey Veeren to leave the league.
Yet, it’s tough to compare the two leagues’ pay because the AAF folded after just eight games, failing to pay players their full contracts. If the XFL lasts beyond this season and sends players to NFL training camps, the lower salary costs will be worth it by providing a developmental league. If the league gains a solid fanbase and sustains viewerships, salaries are sure to rise. For now, the salary cap is a wise economic decision.
The XFL won’t be as wild or gimmicky as it was two decades ago, but it will introduce a few new innovative rules that are sure to turn heads. Extra points have been eliminated. Instead, teams can choose to go for one point from the 2-yard line, two points from the 5-yard line or three points from the 10-yard line. Teams can mount a double-digit comeback in a matter of plays.
Another wrinkle is that plays can have two forward passes as opposed to just one, as long as the first pass is received by a player behind the line of scrimmage. This means teams can design plays with two quarterbacks in the same formation. This should be an impactful change for dual-threat quarterbacks, who can line up at receiver, catch a pass and heave it downfield to an open receiver. Dual threat quarterbacks Seattle’s Keenan Reynolds and Tampa Bay’s Quenton Flowers will be especially valuable in this role.
I’m excited to see campus legends like former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and former Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones lace up their cleats again. Most of all, I’m excited to have a front-row seat for an intriguing spring football league. Let’s hope they stick the landing this time.
“T-Time" runs every other Thursday.