The NFL season ended less than two weeks ago, but football is still not over thanks to the creation of America’s newest professional football league: the XFL.
For those who don’t know much about it, the XFL was founded by billionaire Vince McMahon — the chairman and CEO of the WWE — who had the vision of creating a version of professional football that is faster-paced and more exciting than the NFL. There are currently eight teams in the league located in major cities around the U.S., including one team right here in Los Angeles.
The XFL received generally positive reviews during its opening week, but what makes the average fan think the XFL won’t eventually fizzle out for one reason or another?
The XFL has to contend with the fact that there has never been a more successful football league than the NFL. This past year, people thought there would finally be a successful supplement to the NFL after the creation of the Alliance of American Football, the AAF. However, it folded midway through the season because it didn’t have enough money to fund itself. And from the United Football League to the Fall Experimental Football League, the list of failed professional football leagues goes on and on.
In addition, the XFL could use some help by getting bigger names into the league. Right now, people might recognize players like former Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones or former Raiders punter Marquette King, but for the most part, the league is composed of little-known players who didn’t quite make it in the NFL.
Still, although the odds are not in its favor, I think the XFL has the potential to establish itself as a sustainable secondary American professional football league.
To start off, the XFL offers a style of football that fans love, and looking back at its inaugural weekend, it has succeeded so far in creating a distinct kind of football with its modified rules. The game is faster, higher-scoring and overall more action-packed than the average NFL game. The XFL accomplished this with several rule tweaks, including a new point-after conversion system, the legalization of the double forward pass and a new overtime format. Additionally, the XFL encourages teams to punt and kick less, which adds another wrinkle of fourth-down excitement.
The new gameplay is one thing that attracts fans, but another huge, yet controversial, attraction of the XFL is the return of big hits.
One of the great frustrations with the NFL has been its crackdown on the hard hits that many football enthusiasts live to see. Nowadays, you won’t see a massive takedown in the NFL without referees raining down penalty flags. Quarterbacks are protected by the rules as well as their own linemen, as both high and low hits are now strongly penalized. The NFL has gotten rid of blindside blocks, lowered shoulders and other ways to land big hits on other players.
I completely understand that the NFL did this for player safety, and to some extent, I agree with the rules. But overall, I think the league has taken it too far — it has all but eliminated a major part of football and has negatively altered the game.
That’s where the XFL can come in and fulfill fans’ cravings for hard-hitting action. This past weekend, I saw at least ten big hits that would have easily been penalized in the NFL for one reason or another, but in the XFL, those plays are legal. And I love it.
Not only does the XFL provide a unique football viewing experience, but maybe more importantly, the quality of the gameplay is still very high. The XFL could have done anything it wanted with the league to attract fans, but at the end of the day, people won’t want to see games unless the league has good, fundamental football. So far, it appears that the XFL is capable of providing that: The players and coaches are elite and talented, and they have a legitimate chance to prove themselves eligible to NFL teams while in the XFL.
Another reason the XFL has the opportunity to succeed is that it has better resources than any past professional football league. In terms of money, the XFL should not have a major problem as long as it can attract fans because McMahon has a safe amount of finances to run the league.
In addition, the XFL has already established strong media connections, as games are aired on major channels including FOX, ABC and ESPN. The XFL also airs its games during primetime evening weekend hours when plenty of people have the downtime to watch a full game. Having content readily available on major networks gives the league greater exposure and credibility. Fans can watch an XFL game just as easily as they can watch any NFL or NCAA football game.
Whether it’s the money or the gameplay, the XFL has what it takes to succeed. The real question comes down to whether fans will buy into the league and give it life.
At this past weekend’s games, the XFL drew in around 17,000 fans at each stadium, which is low for football — but at the same time, it also drew in about three million viewers per game on TV. If the XFL can get those numbers to keep growing, I wouldn’t be surprised if we have found a spring football league that is here to stay.
Harrison Cho is a sophomore writing about sports. His column, “The Chosen One,” runs every other Thursday.