XFL quick win: Out-plan the NFL and NCAA

XFL in a Bubble
XFL in a Bubble. If the XFL can lead all football leagues in health and safety protocols, fans get their best chance to watch football and the league its best chance at success.

In the week since the new star-studded XFL ownership was announced, speculation has started to swirl about when the league may return and what it might look like. 

COVID-19 will once again play a pivotal role in an XFL season. After the virus led to the cancellation of the 2020 season, subsequent bankruptcy, and sale, COVID-19 still looms large in the XFL’s future.

But, what once led to the XFL’s demise could turn into the biggest leverage point for future success. 

Learn From Other Professional Sports Leagues

Six league’s seasons precede an XFL season potentially kicking off in February 2021. Leagues in a bubble include the NBA, WNBA, NHL, and MLS. Non-bubble leagues include the MLB, NFL, and NCAA football. 

The XFL benefits from being able to observe best practices from each league. We have reached the stage of seeing what works and doesn’t work for leagues. This is where the XFL can differentiate itself from other leagues to ensure a season happens safely, in its entirety, and as scheduled.

Other football leagues are playing checkers leaving the chessboard open for the XFL.

The return of the NBA has largely been successful. They established a bubble at Disney resorts and are isolated from society. There are strict rules about who is allowed in the bubble, along with an entry quarantine process. Zero x2: zero positive test results for two weeks leading up the play, and zero canceled games over the first two weeks of the season. 

This NBA Disney bubble is largely seen as a success at the cost of $150 million.

The return of the MLB has hit some major road bumps. Within the first week, the Miami Marlins had an outbreak of at least 20 positive cases resulting in seven games being postponed. A second separate outbreak also hit the St. Louis Cardinals with at least 16 positive cases of COVID-19, resulting in 15 postponements for the time being. 

Major League Baseball does not have a bubble. Both outbreaks are alleged to be from community exposure due to player trips to clubs and casinos. There is no required isolation, and players are using this liberty and putting the season at risk. The coronavirus has also led to over 750 minor league players being released.

Using the MLB as an example is important. They are an example of what not to do and where rules can go wrong. 

NFL training camps have opened and players have begun showing up to team facilities. There is no bubble, and the health and well being of the league are dependent on the actions of over 2,000 players, coaches, and other team personnel. The Super Bowl is still six months away. There are a lot of variables and dependencies needed for the NFL season to go on without a hitch. 

College football is at risk to not taking place whatsoever. Players are practicing without fully established health and safety protocols. UCLA players demanded third-party oversight to follow what rules do exist almost two months ago to ensure their safety; at least eight players have contracted coronavirus since returning to training camp. Players want to play, but the NCAA is caught in business decisions and logistics about how to make it safe. 

The multiple D-I conferences have already canceled their fall season, most notably the BIG10. Other major conferences are in active discussions evaluating the feasibility of the upcoming season. 

Getting it Right

Here lies where the XFL can come out ahead of the NFL and college football for the upcoming season. A well thought out plan for the next XFL season is the key to success, which does not necessarily mean a February 2021 kickoff is the correct or even incorrect answer.

With the core structure of the league already established with proven success, the XFL has time and bandwidth to establish the gold-standard of health and safety protocols. For 2021, it likely means a bubble. If that is the route the league decides to go, this may mean the new ownership group has to hedge their bet now on the league’s immediate success. As seen with the NBA, bubbles are expensive. While the XFL won’t be going to Disney, and will likely be much smaller, accommodations and facilities for players, families and team personnel are expensive. 

If the NCAA fails to protect player best interests they also risk tainting the already fragile student-athlete relationship. Unhappy college players may be willing to forgo a college career to play in the XFL where their safety is of concern, they are compensated, and still maintain a stage to display their talents for prospective NFL careers. 

If a 2021 season takes place, it must demonstrate health and safety protocols with the best interest of the community a team plays in. It must be able to keep all team personnel safe to play a full season from start to finish, XFL 2.0 couldn’t survive a shutdown and it’s likely not something worth risking for XFL 3.0.

The XFL has a significant challenge to reintroduce the league amid the pandemic. With a tactful humanistic approach they can carve out a strong path to once again establishing a secondary professional football league. The answer lies in a well thought out strategy that accounts for what coronavirus has thrown their way, and more.

XFL 3.0: The Return of the Players League

XFL- LA Wildcats At NY Guardians 29 Feb 2020 - Credit Adam McCullough
“For the Love of Football.” XFL- LA Wildcats At NY Guardians 29 Feb 2020 – Credit Adam McCullough

On March 11, Utah Jazz all-star center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. Although through no fault of his own, the positive test set in motion a domino effect which led to the XFL cancelling play for the remainder of their season on March 12.

On April 13, the XFL officially declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Most assumed that the league was over and mourned the loss of what was shaping up to be such a promising start-up football league. 

On May 26, fans of the league found out that the XFL would likely go up for sale, which was intended for July 23rd. 

On June 5, the sale was delayed to August 3rd, which would end up being the most important day in the history of the league. 

Media members, fans and players were awaiting the time of the XFL auction which was slated for the afternoon of August 3rd. However, in a stunning move, the XFL was bought before the auction and sold to Dwayne Johnson, Dany Garcia and the RedBird Capital Group for $15 million. 

The move is being praised by everyone involved in the league. With Johnson’s history in sports and entertainment, he should be able to follow the vision of the XFL and their slogan “For the love of football” which took the world by storm with the return of the league in 2020. 

Garcia and Johnson reportedly have hopes of playing in 2020. The new ownership group will likely stick with the eight team format for the time being, although the locations of the teams are negotiable for now. 

With the XFL being a smaller league, a bubble situation may work for a full season or at least a round robin style tournament to maintain fan interest in the league. 

But the best part about the XFL was always the novelty of the league, the access to the players, and the opportunity for talented football players to get national exposure. With that framework in mind, let’s take a look at the return of the XFL from the perspective of the players themselves. 

I interviewed six XFL players from 2020, one un-drafted NFL free agent and one XFL coach. Asking everyone three questions, I wanted to get a scope of how the people directly involved in this situation were reacting and most importantly how they felt about possibly returning to the XFL in 2021. 

Question 1: How did you react when you saw that “The Rock” bought the XFL for $15 million?

Jordan McCray: OL, Tampa Bay Vipers

“I was happy to see it was bought just in general, but to see it bought by the Rock was amazing. Him playing in other leagues before, the CFL and being so involved in entertainment, I was very excited.” 

Derek Dennis: OL, NY Guardians

“I kind of already knew that the XFL would be coming back, but seeing that the Rock bought it was exciting but not surprising. His story and his football background is something that you cannot put a price tag on.” 

Ray Rychleski: DB coach, NY Guardians

“Very excited. I don’t think it could have gone to a better group. It seems like they want to get football back as soon as they can. With a woman pro owner and a gentleman who loves football and a group in RedBird Capital that loves sports, this is super exciting.” 

Cole Boozer: OL, DC Defenders

“I woke up to a bunch of texts from XFL people saying ‘hey the XFL is back!’ and I think that The Rock buying the league is huge for the XFL. Everything he has done in his career, the Ballers and all that, he has also been on the other side of being cut. I think this group will create a league that can thrive.” 

Ernesto Lacayo: K, Seattle Dragons

“Definitely shocked. We had heard the rumors of Disney buying the XFL, but hearing that the Rock bought it, I am very excited and it seems very promising. 

Desmond Sturdivant: Undrafted NFL Free Agent

“It is huge because it gives athletes like myself another opportunity to play the game. For someone like The Rock to even consider but actually buy the XFL is huge. I really liked what they had going this past season and I hope they can get a full season this year. 

Quentin Gause: LB, LA Wildcats

“I was excited. It is an opportunity for more guys to get to play professionally. The Rock played in the CFL for a while, never got to the NFL so he is the perfect guy for it. He understands the player side and the business side.” 

Tre Watson: LB, Dallas Renegades

“This is the Rock’s time. Him being a former athlete and with the quality of play the XFL already had, his sports and entertainment knowledge will be huge.” 

Question 2: Would you play in an XFL 2021 season if called upon?

Jordan McCray: OL, Tampa Bay Vipers

“100 percent. We had a great time and it was fun to play with guys who wanted to play football at a high level.”

Derek Dennis: OL, NY Guardians

“If I am still a free agent, absolutely. I had a lot of fun in New York and it was amazing to be back home playing in NFL stadiums. To come back from Canada and play US football was awesome.”

Ray Rychleski: DB coach, NY Guardians

“100 percent. I would love the opportunity and am excited for that to happen.” 

Cole Boozer: OL, DC Defenders

“I would for sure be interested in coming back. I love the fans there (DC) and they were awesome to me.” 

Ernesto Lacayo: K, Seattle Dragons

“ I would definitely play. If the NFL does not come calling, I will absolutely play. I would like to know that now so we can get some work in before training camp starts.”

Desmond Sturdivant: Un-drafted NFL Free Agent

“Of course, no hesitation whatsoever.” 

Quentin Gause: LB, LA Wildcats

“I definitely would yes. I think the leadership will be a lot better, make some great changes. I will keep playing till I can’t anymore.” 

Tre Watson: LB, Dallas Renegades

“Call me immediately!” 

Question 3: What was your favorite memory from your time in the XFL?

Jordan McCray: OL, Tampa Bay Vipers

“Our first win. Having that seltzer shower and celebrating with my guys, as well as earning a little extra money, that was a good day.” 

Derek Dennis: OL, NY Guardians

“Getting into the game in Dallas. Even after everything that went down (ejections) it was exciting to get thrown into the fire, be a veteran leader and show what I was about.” 

Ray Rychleski: TE/DB coach, NY Guardians

“When we won our first game, the Seltzer bash was awesome. After the game, no matter who won or who scored, all that mattered was that we won. That was my favorite moment, watching my guys celebrate after a good win.” 

Cole Boozer: OL, DC Defenders

“Either the time in New York when we beat them 27-0 and I had a lot of fan interaction or when we beat St. Louis. We were on top of the conference and controlled our own destiny at that point.” 

Ernesto Lacayo: K, Seattle Dragons

“The first home game we had and the first kickoff. I was lucky enough to do the first kickoff there and the roar of the crowd was incredible. I could not even hear my own thoughts, the crowd was so loud, I will never forget that moment.” 

Quentin Gause: LB, LA Wildcats

“I did an in-game speech before we played Tampa and DC. It goes,‘As God as our witness they shall fall to our feet. They shall not rise, no pain no gain. No pain no gain’ When I did that in both games, we won both games.” 

Tre Watson: LB, Dallas Renegades

“That would have to be our wins against LA and Seattle. It is always good to get a win and when you are out there trying to prove yourself every day, a win on the resume always helps.” 

Conclusion

In case you haven’t noticed already, everyone involved in the XFL in 2020 absolutely loved the league. From the friendships to the rule changes to the pure competition on the field, the XFL has what it takes to be a legitimate football league. 

Something that was floated on social media, which had apparently been discussed by Garcia and Johnson, was the idea of a bubble like the NBA and NHL are currently doing. There was not a single player I talked to who had an issue with a bubble. 

In a time where we are struggling with health and safety protocols, the XFL has an advantage with a smaller league, and players who are willing and able to commit to some sort of action in 2021. 

With Dwayne Johnson and Dany Garcia in charge, and backed by RedBird Capital Group, the XFL has a unique opportunity to return to a “bubble” in 2021 with willing participants. Not only that, but they will be able to establish themselves for a run at a full season in 2021 with the fanbase and media support to expand past the eight teams we saw in 2020. 

The XFL is nowhere near what it was in 2001 under Vince McMahon. The growth we have seen from the league in just a five week stint is nothing compared to what Johnson and Garcia will be able to do in the next two years. 

So, XFL fans, football fans, and those of you desperate for sports. Buckle up, grab some popcorn and prepare for the journey of a lifetime. 

Additions/Changes the XFL Should Consider for 2021 Season

Year one of the XFL is considered by many to be a success. The level of transparency, rule changes, and the play on the field made fans feel optimistic about season two going well for the league. Even with all the good things fans were able to see, nothing ever goes perfect the first time around. The league will be examining everything that went well and didn’t go well in its first season. Here are some things the league might want to consider when they start to plan out the 2021 season.

Review the Point After Touchdown Rule

This was one of the rules that stood out to experts and fans before the season as an intriguing rule. It was fascinating to some to see how coaches would strategize how aggressive or conservative they would be. In the beginning of the season, coaches were on the more conservative side of going for just one or two point conversions. By week five, teams were more willing to go for the three point conversion, but it wasn’t happening as much as fans were hoping it would happen.

The simple solution to this is reviewing the rule to see if they just want to make it only a one point play or a two point play. Teams seemed to be unwilling to go for the exciting three point play as it was too much of a risk. Going for it at the two or five yard line makes it a higher percentage of a chance to get points after their touchdowns. It might be easier if they make teams just convert from one place only. The league might decide to keep the rule the same and hope coaches will be more aggressive or change it to force only one decision for coaches to make.

Expanding the League to Ten Teams

It may not be the smartest decision since the league took a hit financially from COVID-19, but it’s at least a fun topic to have for fans. Many people have been speculating that the XFL has considered adding at least two more teams to the league for the 2021 season. There are cities that fans have said to be good choices including San Diego, San Antonio, Las Vegas, and Philadelphia among others.

Birmingham has already been working on plans to try to make a run at the XFL to put a team in their city after seeing success with the Birmingham Iron in the AAF. San Diego and San Antonio were two cities that saw success in the AAF in terms of attendance before the league folded. Many have speculated that if it wasn’t for the AAF, the XFL would have a team playing in San Diego. As for Philadelphia, there were rumored to be one of the 21 finalists to land an XFL team so they might be considered in the future.

Change Start Date to Later

Once again, COVID-19 may have something to say about moving their start time back if the NFL is forced to start later. If COVID-19 doesn’t push the NFL start date back, it should be something the XFL still considers. While the TV ratings performed well with the games average over one million viewers per game, the league would have seen a hit in the ratings because of the NCAA March Madness and the NBA/NHL playoffs coming around as well as the start of the MLB season.

If the league wants to see success, it could consider starting play in April or May to move pass March Madness. The NBA and NHL playoffs would be tough to compete with, but the ratings for those games wouldn’t really change from the regular season until the finals came around. The league could have their championship game in late June with only the MLB to compete with on a national television scale. Most likely, this change wouldn’t happen, but it is something to consider if they want the most success in the TV ratings.

Add More Mobile Quarterbacks

Defenses proved to have too much speed for some of the offenses to handle. It showed on the field that any quarterbacks who were able to escape from the pocket and make plays with his feet were more successful than just pure pocket passes. The top four passers in the XFL (PJ Walker, Josh Johnson, Jordan Ta’amu, and Taylor Cornelius) are all considered mobile quarterbacks. They all proved to be viable starters in the XFL and made major impacts on their teams. Pocket passers like Landry Jones, Cardale Jones, and Brandon Silvers all took hits with either turnover issues or low completion percentages.

The game is evolving and it was shown in the XFL. Quarterbacks with fast legs were more successful in invading fast, athletic pass rushers than ones that stay in the pocket. That’s why the XFL has to consider building the league around mobile quarterbacks who are playmakers. PJ Walker and Jordan Ta’amu are off the board as they signed with NFL teams, but we saw the emergence of mobile quarterbacks like BJ Daniels, Quinton Flowers, and Tyree Jackson so flashes of big play potential. Those are the young quarterbacks the league needs to build around for 2021.

Create More XFL-Themed Shows

The XFL Pre-Game show that Jonathan Coachman and Alyse Ashton hosted before games on Saturdays and Sundays were fun for fans to watch. They gave good insight on upcoming games, breaking down previous games, and gave good player profiles when shown. The level of good production shown by the league should give fans more of a craving to see more great content like that shown on TV or the internet. The documentary the league was shooting giving fans behind the scene looks at moments like St. Louis’ first home game or the Seattle-DC season opener was fun to watch as well. A great way to do that is for the league to consider creating more shows that has the experts breaking down games and teams like NFL Live or Sunday NFL Countdown.

Creating more shows could lure more outside fans into watching the XFL as they can learn a little more about the players and coaches that make up the league. Hiring exclusive XFL insiders to have a show that is completely dedicated to inside knowledge of the XFL and breaking down film tape would be great for fans. Individual teams could locally host coaches shows to engage the community more to get to know their local team. Post game shows would also be beneficial as fans would love to see more of those type of contents to fuel their love for the XFL.