Oliver Luck talks XFL gimmicks, head trauma, the AAF and gambling

On Monday, XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck was a guest on the Bloomberg Business of Sports Summit podcast.

On Monday, XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck was a guest on the Bloomberg Business of Sports Summit podcast. Hosts Carol Massar, Michael Barr, and Jason Kelly interviewed Luck about the business aspects of the upcoming league.

When asked about the differences between the old XFL and the new. Luck eagerly responded that the new XFL would be, “a league for serious football fans, where the game is taken seriously.” He added, “It’s an up-tempo, fast-paced kind of a game with fewer breaks and fewer stoppages,” and then pointed out that this was, “one of the things football fans complain about.”

As for innovations, Luck made a point that the game of football, as good as it was, had left room for a few innovations. “We’ve got some innovations we’re looking at doing that we feel will improve the game,” Luck said. “It’s a tough game to improve, because right now, I believe as many fans do, whether it’s the NFL, or major college football, it’s probably at an all time high in terms of the way the game is being played, and the quality of the game.” Luck added, “We feel there are a number of places we can innovate and be a bit different.”

Luck did not go into specific details as to the innovations he was referring to, nor did the interviewers inquire about further information.

When asked about the gimmickry of the 2001 version of the league, Luck pointed out he thought the new XFL would have plenty of “fun moments.” However, he clarified, “What we don’t want to do is have gimmicks. Americans care about football and it’s become sort of our secular religion, and our stadiums are our Cathedral.”

When asked about player nicknames, such as Rod Smart and “He Hate Me,” Luck mentioned, “Rod Smart was a solid player, but it was overshadowed by the name on the jersey.”

More seriously, Luck also spoke about the XFL’s planned response to head trauma. “In 2001, nobody was worried about head trauma. And now, in today’s football world, NFL, College, Pop Warner, High School, there is a serious legitimate concern. So, we want to make sure we are doing things from a health and safety perspective as well.” Later in the interview, he added, “Our players, at least initially, won’t be unionized. So, I think I have to look out as a Commissioner for our players.”

As for competition with the AAF, Luck was quick to point out he felt there was “plenty of space for all of us to coexist” in the current football landscape. “There are 85 million football fans in this country, almost half of whom are diehard passionate fans. We’re going to go into these markets, New York, Washington D.C., Dallas, Houston, Seattle, where we’ve got real passionate fans. Those are not markets where the other league is in, as they are playing in some smaller markets like San Antonio or Salt Lake City… they’ve chosen a little different strategy. I think there is plenty of football, in terms of the ability of the American fan to really enjoy and appreciate the game.”

More specifically, Luck remarked that he had been watching the AAF’s progress. “We’ve watched the Alliance and I think they’ve done some things very well, and some other things I think did not go so well, but we have our own business plan and ideals.”

Luck was also asked how the XFL would approach gambling. “We want to offer a league with Integrity and consistency so that folks do want to in fact gamble, wager. We want Vegas to put a line on our games, which is difficult for a brand-new league. The Alliance is finding that out as well.”

When asked for more details about gambling, Luck was not able to offer many specifics. “That’s all being figured out. It’s taking a relatively slow pace considering the state by state nature of this.” Luck also indicated that “things may not be clearer,” even when the XFL launches in 2020.

XFL rule testing with “Your Call Football”

Jim Zorn,  Marc Trestman, and Pep Hamilton observe XFL rule testing with “Your Call Football”. (Photo source: https://twitter.com/xfl2020)

XFL head coaches Jim Zorn (Seattle), Marc Trestman (Tampa Bay), and Pep Hamilton (Washington D.C.) recently spent time working with “Your Call Football” in another test of the proposed XFL rules.

Your Call Football” is an interactive football competition where online spectators call the plays via a smartphone app.  Now in their second season, games are held on Monday evenings and played by relatively high quality players who are largely recent cuts from NFL and CFL rosters.

As well as “Your Call Football,” the XFL has also tested their proposed rules with community colleges, and is partnered with the Spring League to continue to test the league’s unique set of rules during their upcoming Spring 2019 season.

Additional details regarding the XFL’s proposed rules may be found here on XFLboard.com.

The amount of XFL rule testing being undertaken seems impressive, especially when compared to how the original XFL was rolled out in 2000-2001, with little chance to test the rules.

In 2020, please consider an XFL without Cheerleaders

Feb. 17, 2001, a television cameraman photographs the Los Angeles Xtreme cheerleaders before the start of an XFL football game between the Xtreme and the Las Vegas Outlaws in Las Vegas. (AP Photo)

Eighteen years ago, when Vince McMahon talked about the first version of his pro-football league, he continuously made the boast that his league would have the best cheerleaders. He insisted that football and cheerleaders belonged together, and that the cheerleaders should have a greater role in the game day product. ‘

Of course, other sports leagues are no strangers to promoting the sex-appeal of cheerleaders, but the 2001 version of the XFL packaged and sold the cheerleaders as sex objects.

At one point, in an interview with “ESPN The Magazine,” McMahon even made the outlandish claim that players would date the cheerleaders, and the fans would know if they were doing the “wild thing.”

“Yes, our cheerleaders will date our players,” McMahon said. “Yes, they’ll be hot babes … We’re going to have three or four of them surround our announcers — who’ll be sitting in the stands, by the way… then, when the quarterback fumbles or the wideout drops a pass — and we know who he’s dating — I want our reporters right back in her face on the sidelines demanding to know whether the two of them did the wild thing last night.”

That’s right. He said, “the wild thing.”

In an era that brought us reality television, Vince McMahon, the master showman, was willing to take things as far as anyone could imagine and put the cameras in places they had never gone before. The XFL cheerleaders were a key part of this plan.

On game day, the cheerleaders were normally not found on the field. They were featured on specially constructed platforms situated within the stands, right where the hungry eyes of the fans could get a good look at them. A large crowd of men usually surrounded the cheerleader’s location.

Why would a woman sign up to be an ogled at by strange men? Bonnie-Jill Laflin, a cheerleader with the XFL’s Los Angeles Xtreme, revealed, “I decided to do the XFL because for me it was great exposure and I hoped it would help with my sports broadcasting career. But what they have shown so far on national TV is girls looking like strippers, and it looks like we may not get all the breaks we thought we would get.” Clearly, not everyone enjoyed cheerleading for the XFL.

Unfortunately for Vince McMahon, using cheerleaders to garner popularity for his league didn’t always go well. In what is now billed as the “worst halftime football stunt in history,” Vince McMahon sent a cameraman into the Orlando Rage Cheerleaders locker room. When fans realized it was a WWE-style scripted scenario, it fell as flat as a pancake… despite the fact it featured a cameo by a towel-clad Rodney Dangerfield. Even Rodney’s popularity couldn’t save the day, and this debacle is now how many remember the XFL.

Complete turnaround in 2020

When it comes to cheerleaders, in 2020 we will see a complete one-eighty. When Vince McMahon relaunched the XFL in January 2018, he said plainly, “There will be no cheerleaders.”  This is a far cry from talking about “the wild thing.”

In trying to create a new XFL that is all about “better football,” McMahon is now using a lack of cheerleaders as a wedge, just to prove how serious he is about cleaning up his league.

Recently, in an XFLBoard Discussion, user Tank55 nailed it:

“I think dropping the cheerleaders entirely was a really easy, clean way to separate yourself from the worst parts of the old XFL, especially considering today’s climate. You don’t have to waste any effort of explaining how 2020’s cheerleaders would be presented differently than in 2001.”

So, it’s a brand new XFL, and the lack of cheerleaders proves it!

So far, as shown in the results of this recent XFLBoard Twitter poll, fans seem to be in agreement with the plan to shelve the cheerleaders. However, the result is clearly not a landslide.

We will see what happens next February, when the players hit the field. How many fans will be disappointed by the absence of the infamous XFL cheerleaders?

In a well-known 2001 photo, San Francisco Demons fan Chris Wright held a sign proclaiming his young desires. We hope, eighteen years later, a grown-up Chris Wright is not too disappointed when he discovers the XFL Cheerleaders he once coveted are no longer part of the game day experience.

San Francisco Demons fan Chris Wright, 11, from Benicia, Calif., holds up a sign during the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Xtreme, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2001 in San Francisco in their first XFL game. The Demons beat the Xtreme 15-13. (AP Photo)

Marc Trestman to Coach XFL Tampa Bay

Marc Trestman most recently served as Head Coach of the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts.

Thomas Bassinger of the Tampa Bay Times has reported that Marc Trestman will be named as the Head Coach/General Manager of the Tampa Bay XFL franchise.

Trestman’s appointment will be made at a press conference which takes place at Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium at 11:00 AM ET on Tuesday 5 March 2019.  The XFL will be streaming the press conference live via Twitter and YouTube.

Trestman has had mixed success as a head coach in both the NFL and CFL, and most recently worked as the head coach of the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. Earlier in his career he also served as the head coach of the Montreal Alouettes (CFL), and Chicago Bears (NFL).

His greatest glory came as a head coach in the Canadian Football League where he led the Alouettes to two consecutive Grey Cup championships and was named CFL Coach of the Year in 2009. Later in 2017, he also lead the Toronto Argonauts to a Grey Cup championship.

A Minnesota native, in college Trestman played as a quarterback for three seasons with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, and one season with Minnesota State University Moorhead.

Many hurdles before Johnny Football plays in the XFL

Johnny Manziel 2014 Browns training camp (Source)

The Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League released quarterback Johnny Manziel on Wednesday, saying he “contravened the agreement which made him eligible to play.” This dramatic step may also spell out how Johnny Manziel may have many hurdles before he would be signed by the AAF or XFL.

For the Canadian Football League, the Johnny Manziel experiment is over. In Canadian style, the CFL made an effort to give Manziel an additional chance to overcome his personal shortcomings by signing him to an agreement that stipulated certain conditions. Also, in typical Canadian style, those conditions remained private and were never publicly spelled out.

On the day Manziel was released, CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie was quick to point out, “We didn’t release the terms of those conditions then, and we’re not going to do that now.”

Montreal Alouettes General Manager Kavis Reed further remarked on Manziel’s conditions of employment with “3DownNation” :

“Q: Did Manziel want to be released to pursue playing opportunities in the United States?

Reed: Johnny Manziel never gave any indication of that, during that whole process that wasn’t a part of it. Mr. Manziel violated a condition of the agreement with the league. Mr. Manziel was given opportunities to be able to rectify the situation and chose not to. This was not a part of the understanding, the league and our team put a lot of infrastructure in place for Mr. Manziel to be successful and it did not work out.”

We know Manziel was not released because he wanted to play in the AAF or XFL. However, in a tweet Manziel thanked his CFL team and fans, and then claimed he is now exploring new options in the United States.

Recently, on Barstool Sports’ Comeback SZN podcast, Manziel remarked he liked the idea of playing in the AAF or XFL. “It’s great for football, it’s great for the guys who need more opportunity, need more film and time to play,” Manziel said. “I don’t know exactly what my exact steps will be for the next years coming up, but at least there’s a lot of options.”

Will the future hold that Manziel will appear in either the AAF or XFL?

Manziel’s history is his biggest shortcoming, as he has dealt with several off-field issues. In 2016, a domestic assault charge against Manziel in Dallas was dismissed after he took an anger management course and participated in the NFL’s substance abuse program. More recently, Manziel revealed he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, something he has been determined to overcome.

Football-wise, Manziel is a star. Given the nickname ”Johnny Football” he was awarded the prestigious Heisman Trophy as a freshman quarterback with the Texas A&M Aggies. Later, he was taken in the first round, No. 22 overall, in the 2014 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns. However, the Browns released Manziel in March 2016 after he posted a 2-6 record as their starter and suffered from several off-field controversies.

Manziel’s potential star quality aside, surely either the AAF or XFL would have to consider Manziel in the same way the CFL did, hiring him under similar strict conditions.

Keep in mind the XFL has already emphatically stated they will not hire players who have legal issues. However, XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck has recently stated the details of this hiring policy are still under review.  Manziel’s history may test this policy, adding another potential hurdle in Johnny Football’s quest to play professional football.

Plenty of positivity for Jim Zorn as he is welcomed into the XFL

XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck welcomes Jim Zorn into the XFL.

Monday saw XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck welcome former Seattle Seahawks quarterback Jim Zorn into the XFL as Head Coach and General Manager of the Seattle franchise, which spawned a torrent of positive messages to be sent in Zorn’s direction.

First from Oliver Luck himself:

Then from ESPN analyst Matt Haselback, a former Quarterback who was coached by Zorn.

Former Seahawks player Walter Jones weighed in,

As did Romeo Crennel from the Kansas City Chiefs,

and, John Harbaugh, Head Coach of the Baltimore Ravens.

Lawsuit reveals Ebersol’s initial intention to go with XFL

McMahon may been thinking about resurrecting the XFL all along.

Earlier today, Sports Business Reporter Darren Rovell tweeted about a lawsuit filed by investor Robert Vanech against the Alliance of American Football and Charlie Ebersol. He also revealed how Ebersol’s original plan was to restart the XFL by purchasing the league for $50 million from Vince McMahon.

  • Lawsuit details here.

Many observers have made the conclusion this gives evidence McMahon had an offer on the table to sell the remnants of the XFL for a substantial amount, and reacted by quickly turning around and reforming the league himself.  On the other hand, some think McMahon already had plans to resurrect the XFL.

There is ample evidence McMahon desired to revive the XFL all along, especially if you consider remarks he made in the 2016 Charlie Ebersol produced “This Was The XFL” special, an ESPN Films production in their “30 for 30” series.

When Dick Ebersol asked McMahon whether he had any thoughts about trying to restart the football league, Vince answered thoughtfully and quickly, “Yes, and no. I don’t know what it would be, whether it would be another XFL or how different I would make it but somehow it would tie-in with the NFL itself and the owners.” Afterward, the two men discussed the possibility of going back into a partnership, with Vince making the final comment that he was sure, “they could find a way.”

Afterward, in 2017, fans noticed how McMahon began to trademark new football related names, giving additional hints he hadn’t given up on his dream to create his own football league.

As revealed in the lawsuit, when Charlie Ebersol showed considerable interest in the XFL, it did seem to trigger McMahon to restart his pet project.  This left Ebersol to start his own league and attempt to do it quicker and better than the XFL.

We await the verdicts, both in the pending lawsuit, and the seemingly increasing friction between the XFL and AAF.

Pep Hamilton to lead XFL Washington

Pep Hamilton (left) and XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck (right) (Credit Twitter 

Former NFL and college assistant coach Pep Hamilton is the new Head Coach and General Manager of XFL Washington D.C.

Hamilton’s hiring was officially announced by XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck on Thursday, at Audi Field in Washington D.C.

In the past, Luck knew Hamilton through his son, quarterback Andrew Luck, who was coached by Hamilton both at Stanford and later with the Indianapolis Colts of the NFL.

(View the announcement video below)

 

Pep Hamilton, a Washington D.C. native, recently resigned his position at Michigan. He has plenty of football experience, with eleven seasons coaching in the NFL with the Jets, 49ers, Bears and Colts, and most recently with the 2016 Cleveland Browns.

“I’m excited to join the XFL and lead the team in Washington, a city with which I have a lifelong attachment,” Hamilton stated on Thursday. “I appreciate the confidence Vince McMahon and Oliver Luck have in me, providing an opportunity to be the head coach and placing the football operations of their Washington team in my hands. We plan to put together a terrific, hard-working staff, and a great football team for fans in and around our nation’s capital.”

Oliver Luck on XFL Broadcast Package, Seattle’s Head Coach Announcement

Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, future home to Seattle’s XFL franchise.

Today, XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck was on the Charlie Brennan Show on St. Louis KMOX radio, and gave an update on the progress of league announcements, including a hint Seattle’s Head Coach will be announced next week.

Luck confirmed the league will have a 10-game season starting the weekend after the Super Bowl, followed by two semi-final games in week eleven, and the championship game at the end of April.

The XFL Commissioner also mentioned the upcoming XFL broadcast package. “We are very close to announcing a very strong broadcast package,” Luck said. “Two of the four games will be broadcast over-the-air, terrestrial, major carriers, and the remaining two games will be broadcast over cable, but fully distributed cable sports brands people will recognize.”

Luck also talked about the upcoming XFL announcements. “We’ve got a cadence going of about one Head Coach announcement per week and we will get all our markets done by the end in March,” Luck explained. “At some point, probably in April, we will be able to launch the team names, team colors, identity and logos.”

This seems to be a change in the timeline, since, in past interviews, Luck had hinted the team names and colors may be revealed in March.

As for Seattle, Luck revealed next week the XFL would be in Seattle to announce the team’s Head Coach. It has been rumored former Seahawks quarterback Jim Zorn is being touted for the job.

XFL to announce Washington’s Head Coach on Thursday

Former Michigan assistant head coach and Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton is rumored to be the first Head Coach of the Washington D.C. XFL franchise.

The XFL has announced it will reveal the Washington, D.C. franchise’s Head Coach on Thursday.

  • Event: Thursday February 21st at 1:00PM ET. Audi Field, Washington D.C.

The candidate doesn’t seem to be a secret, as the rumor mill has already spit out former Michigan assistant head coach and Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton as the man who will be named to the position.

Hamilton has plenty of football experience, with eleven seasons coaching in the NFL with the Jets, 49ers, Bears and Colts, and most recently with the 2016 Cleveland Browns. Early this month, Hamilton resigned his position at Michigan to “pursue other opportunities.”

Other former NFL players and coaches who are rumored to have been courted for an XFL Head Coach position are former Linebacker and Indiana University of Pennsylvania alum, Jim Haslett, and former Seattle Seahawks quarterback Jim Zorn.