The XFL is a planned professional American football league owned by Vince McMahon's Alpha Entertainment, and is headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut. It is the successor to the previous XFL, which was controlled by the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE) and NBC, and ran for a single season in 2001. The league will follow a similar structure as the original XFL did in 2001, with eight teams, centrally owned and operated by the league and spread across the United States in markets currently or recently represented by a National Football League (NFL) franchise, competing in a ten-game season and a two-week postseason in the winter and spring months, after the Super Bowl.
|Inaugural season||2020 (planned)|
|Owner(s)||Alpha Entertainment LLC|
|No. of teams||8|
In announcing the reformed XFL, McMahon stated that while it would share its name and trademark with the previous incarnation, it will not rely on professional wrestling-inspired features and entertainment elements as its predecessor did, instead aiming to create a league with fewer off-field controversies and faster, simpler play compared to the NFL.
The XFL originally ran for a single season in 2001, as a joint venture between WWF and NBC spearheaded by Vince McMahon and NBC executive Dick Ebersol. The league attempted to be a competitor to the National Football League—the predominant professional league of American football in the United States (and where NBC had recently lost its broadcast rights to CBS), running during the late winter and early spring to take advantage of lingering desire for football after the end of the NFL season. It featured various modifications to the rules of football in order to increase its intensity, as well as on-air innovations such as Skycams, placing microphones on players, and in-game interviews with players. The league was ultimately criticized for relying too heavily on "sports entertainment" gimmicks similar to professional wrestling (including emphasizing violence and sex appeal as part of its identity), and for the lack of high-level talent among its players. Despite strong ratings for its first games, viewership eventually nosedived, and the league folded after the conclusion of the inaugural season. Both partners lost $35 million on the XFL, and McMahon eventually conceded that the league was a "colossal failure".
In the 2017 ESPN documentary This Was the XFL, McMahon openly mused about reviving the XFL, noting that changes would need to be made compared to 2001 in order to make it viable and relevant in the modern era. (The director of This Was the XFL, Charlie Ebersol, would go on to announce the Alliance of American Football in March 2018, hoping to beat the revived XFL to play. While the league was able to launch a year before the XFL's first season, it went bankrupt before its first season finished after it twice lost its major investors.) On December 15, 2017, Bleacher Report columnist Brad Shepard reported that McMahon was seriously considering a revival of the XFL, with an expected announcement on January 25, 2018. In a statement to Deadspin, WWE did not confirm or deny the rumors, but did state that McMahon was establishing a new company known as Alpha Entertainment, which would "explore investment opportunities across the sports and entertainment landscapes, including professional football." On December 21, 2017, WWE issued a filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission, stating that McMahon had sold $100 million worth of WWE stock to fund Alpha Entertainment. Alpha Entertainment is headquartered next door to WWE headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut.
On January 25, 2018, Alpha Entertainment announced a new incarnation of the XFL, which would begin with a 10-week inaugural season beginning in January or February 2020. In a press conference, McMahon stated that the new XFL would be dissimilar to its previous incarnation, stating that "There's only so many things that have 'FL' on the end of them and those are already taken. But we aren't going to have much of what the original XFL had." McMahon stated that the league would feature eight teams as a single entity owned by Alpha (the previous XFL was also a single-entity league), which had been revealed in 2019. Alpha Entertainment was established in order to keep the league's management and operations separate from that of WWE. McMahon is prepared to invest as much as $500 million, five times as much as his investment in the 2001 XFL. The XFL's decision to nix cheerleaders is in part due to changing attitudes regarding women's participation in entertaining sports fans. He liquidated an additional $270 million in WWE stock (representing a 4% stake in WWE) in March 2019 to provide additional funding for the league.
The XFL will discourage political gestures by players during games such as, for example, taking a knee in protest. McMahon also originally planned to forbid any player with a criminal record from participating (Commissioner Oliver Luck later walked back the latter decision, noting that the policy had not yet been finalized, and stated in April 2019 that it would allow its teams to sign Johnny Manziel, who was convicted of domestic violence in 2016.) Felony convictions will still be a disqualification. McMahon justified his intentions by stating that the XFL would be "evaluating a player based on many things, including the quality of human being they are", and that "people don't want social and political issues coming into play when they are trying to be entertained". He suggested that players who wish to express political opinions should do so on their personal time. Luck said in December 2018 that the XFL backtracked players expressing political opinions on their personal time, and stated that players cannot publicly endorse political candidates or issues (posting about politics on social media, participating in political protests, donating one’s money to political campaigns, or even having a political bumper sticker on one’s car are prohibited by the XFL.), and noted that the ban on protesting during the national anthem will be written into player contracts as a condition of employment. Players will not be barred from using cannabis or be tested for the drug.
McMahon did not initially reveal any specific details on rule changes that the new XFL would feature, but did state that he aimed to reduce the length of games to around two hours (in contrast to the current standard in American football, which generally runs slightly over three hours). The league later revised this to a 2½-hour target length. Later when announcing new changes to overtime rules, it was implied that television broadcasts would have 3 hour time-slots, into which the entire game and overtime would fit. Test games resulted in an average game time of 2 hours, 40 minutes, with a comparable number of plays as an NFL game. He also noted that by announcing it two years in advance (unlike the original XFL, which was only announced one year in advance), there would also be more time to prepare the league in order to deliver a more desirable product.
McMahon denied that the timing of the announcement was meant to coincide with a recent ratings downturn being experienced by the NFL, explaining that "what has happened there is their business, and I'm not going to knock those guys, but I am going to learn from their mistakes as anyone would if they were tasked with reimagining a new football league."
On June 5, 2018, Oliver Luck was named the league's commissioner and chief executive officer. Luck will leave his previous positions with the NCAA to take over the operations of the XFL. Doug Whaley, most recently general manager of the Buffalo Bills, was hired as the league's senior vice president of football operations on November 8, 2018.. On January 22, 2019 Jeffrey Pollack was named as the President & Chief Operating Officer, coming from his previous role as the Chief Marketing & Strategy Officer and Special Advisor for the Los Angeles Chargers.
The league commissioner announced the eight host cities and stadiums for the first franchises on December 5, 2018, and also announced the starting date of February 8, 2020; the weekend after Super Bowl LIV. Its first head coach and general manager, Dallas's Bob Stoops, was announced February 7, 2019, with the coaches for Seattle (Jim Zorn), Washington (Pep Hamilton), and Tampa Bay (Marc Trestman) following later in the month. The last of the inaugural head coaches, Houston's June Jones, was hired May 13 and unveiled May 20.
McMahon stated that he wanted to play in existing NFL markets but did not identify potential cities specifically and did not rule out any specific cities. McMahon also did not rule out playing on artificial turf. The original XFL avoided artificial playing surfaces (as most such surfaces then were more carpet-like); the technology, however, has advanced considerably since 2001, with modern artificial turfs mimicking real grass more closely. John Shumway from KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh and local media from Orlando and San Diego both inquired about potential teams in their respective cities, but McMahon (while stating that "I love Pittsburgh") declined to name any cities for teams. McMahon also stated that teams would have new identities compared to recycling old identities from the old league. The league sent solicitations to thirty metropolitan areas as potential locations for a team. The league commissioner announced the eight host cities and stadiums for the first franchises on December 5, 2018. The emergence of the Alliance of American Football created issues selecting cities to host XFL teams, as many potential candidates became home to AAF teams (notably Orlando, the next largest city without an NFL team and an acceptable stadium. Orlando was also one of the original XFL's most successful markets and second in attendance for the 2019 AAF season). Not wanting teams to compete against another spring football teams in the same market, the XFL chose cities the AAF would not host cities in.
The league chose to focus on placing teams large media markets, selecting 5 of the top 7 largest media markets in the U.S.; based on 2017 census bureau estimates, all eight XFL markets have over 2.9 million residents each (the smallest being St. Louis). This was seen as a stark contrast to the other emerging spring football league, the Alliance of American Football, who primarily chose markets without NFL teams, seen as a decision to avoid competing with existing fan bases; three of the AAF's markets (Birmingham, Memphis, and Salt Lake; the first two of which had teams in the old XFL) had populations less than half that of St. Louis's. The only XFL market which does not host an NFL team is St. Louis, which in 2015 saw their NFL team depart for Southern California.
The XFL is running test games with community colleges in Mississippi, as well as with Your Call Football and with The Spring League during their spring 2019 seasons, to experiment with rule changes. Among the proposed rule changes:
These are rule changes the league have officially tested in The Spring League and plan on using in the 2020 season:
Forward lateral ruleEdit
The XFL has tested the idea of treating all passes behind the line of scrimmage as lateral passes, therefore allowing more than one forward pass to be thrown on a play. Luck stated that this would also have the added benefit of simplifying officiating, as he surmised it would be easier to judge whether a person was behind a fixed line of scrimmage compared to whether a pass thrown by a moving player was traveling along a parallel line. The league has yet to clarify if a dropped screen pass behind the line of scrimmage would be treated as an incomplete pass or a fumble as a true lateral pass would be. The XFL ran test plays with double forward passes during its rules testing in Mississippi.
This rule would also have the intended consequence of making all players behind the line of scrimmage an eligible receiver, including those on the offensive line, and thus would eliminate the "illegal touching of a forward pass" penalty at other levels of the game. Offensive linemen would still be prohibited from advancing downfield before a forward pass that crosses the line of scrimmage is in the air. (McMahon had proposed a similar but broader rule change during the run of the original XFL, which would have made all players eligible receivers, but the league's coaches rejected the proposal as too radical of a change to make mid-season.) It also would have the intended consequence of providing employment to utility players who play multiple positions and have a broader range of skills.
- Fair catches will not be recognized, and the kicking team must give the returner five yards of space to recover and return the ball. (This rule is a carryover from the original XFL and is also in use in the CFL; breaching this space will result in a penalty, called no yards in the CFL.)
- The league has an active interest in reviving the kickoffs as an element of the game. (This is in contrast to the AAF, which eliminated kickoffs outright, and the NFL and college football, both of which have imposed rules minimizing the impact of the kickoff.)
- Kickoffs will be attempted with teams separated by only five yards, with the two teams not allowed to cross the neutral zone until the returning team touches the ball.
- The spot of the kickoff will likely be moved back to the kicking team's 15-yard line, to make touchbacks all but impossible. (The NFL and college standard is the 35-yard line.) In the implausible event that a touchback happens, the ball would be taken to the 35-yard line, to discourage kickers from kicking the ball that far. (The NFL and college football takes touchbacks to the 25 on kickoffs and the 20 in all other situations; in high school, all touchbacks advance to the 20-yard line. The XFL's proposal is in fact closer to the 40-yard line used by most leagues for an illegal kickoff out of bounds.)
- Teams will be allowed to option for a typical Onside kick, though surpise onside kicks will no longer be possible under the new kickoff rules.
Points after touchdownEdit
The extra point kick will be replaced with a scrimmage play, varying in point value depending on how far the touchdown-scoring team chooses to take the snap from the goal line: a two-yard attempt would score a single point, a five-yard attempt two points, and a ten-yard attempt three points. (This rule is also a carryover from the original XFL, which added the rule only for the playoffs. The Stars Football League also used the rule during its existence.)
Overtime will be decided by a multiple-round shootout of one-point conversions (though the attempts will take place from the 5 yard-line rather than the 2 yard-line) similar to a penalty shootout in soccer; in April 2019, the NCAA adopted a similar concept for games that reach the fifth overtime starting with the 2019 FBS season. There will be five rounds of the shootout, where the offense can score a point by converting in the end zone, while the defense can score a point by forcing a turnover (should a turnover occur, the play would be dead). To speed up the overtime process, both teams offense and defense will be on the field at the appropriate end zone. Once one team's offense has completed their round of the shootout, the other team's offense will play their round from the opposite end zone. These overtime rules ensure that both teams have an opportunity to win the game, provides a way for defense to make a greater impact on the outcome of overtime, and would limit overtime to 5 or 6 minutes. What happens if both teams remain tied after five rounds has not yet been explained, though Luck has not ruled out the possibility of a regular season tie.
- Outside of the two-minute drill, the clock will run continuously. During this time, the clock would only stop during a change of possession. This will reverse after the two-minute warning (which the XFL will use), after which the clock will stop after all plays from scrimmage. (Arena football has long used a continuous clock with even fewer stoppages.)
- The play clock will be 25 seconds long measured from the end of the previous play, the shortest of any U.S. league. (The original XFL, as well as the AAF, used a 35-second clock, arena football uses a 32-second clock and the NFL and college football use 40 seconds; the CFL uses a 20-second clock but times it from the spotting of the ball, which in practice can add up to 15 seconds between plays.)
- Instant replay reviews will be limited to 30 seconds. (The league has yet to announce if and how coaches would be able to initiate instant replay reviews.)
- A specialized ball judge will be added to the officiating team to speed up the placement of the ball, bringing the number of on-field officials to eight.
- A new rule proposal would add a new 'tap' penalty, imposed on individual players instead of entire teams. Players who commit a foul which is not serious enough to warrant a penalty flag will be sent off the field for one play. This type of enforcement will keep the game moving quickly without allowing players to break the rules. Unlike the power play used in ice hockey, the offending team would be allowed to substitute another player.
- Penalty enforcement will place priority on fouls that pose a threat to player safety, with less emphasis on procedural violations so as not to slow down the game with unnecessary penalty calls. Officials would also have access to both teams' play calls.
The football used in XFL games will be the traditional brown color used in other leagues. (This is in contrast to the black ball with red adornments used by the original XFL.) The distinguishing mark will be at each end of the ball, where a white X with purple trim will adorn each point and run through the middle of each panel of the ball. As of June 2019, five balls, each with a different texture of leather, were being tested.
These are rule changes which the league has considered using, though they have not been officially tested yet, nor has the league commented on their use in the 2020 season.
- The league proposed using a wider one-yard neutral zone used by the CFL. (The NFL, college and high school standard is the length of the football, approximately 11 inches.) This rule became less likely after testing, as the league feared it would make short-yardage situations too easy to convert for the offensive team.
- The Alliance of American Football introduced the Sky Judge, an additional official in the press booth for the sole purpose of reviewing on-field decisions. Luck had said he thought this was a great innovation to the game and would consider implementing it in the XFL.
- The original XFL allowed for forward motion in the backfield, similar to the CFL. The XFL had briefly mentioned they may use this rule again.
- During the announcement of the league, Vince suggested the XFL may eliminate halftime.
- Unlike the NFL which only allows one player on each team to use a headset to communicate with coaches, the XFL may allow every player on the field to use a headset.
- A proposed rule would require offensive linemen (excluding the snapper) to not put their hand on the ground, outlawing the three-point stance used at all other levels of the game.
- In a June 2019 interview, Luck stated that the league would likely use the amateur football standard of one foot in bounds for a complete forward pass.
Team names and logos were to be released in early June but is now scheduled for mid-July, with the 2020 XFL Draft scheduled for October 2019. Training camps will begin in November. In addition to the eight competitive teams, the XFL will also operate a centralized practice squad and farm team, which will operate as a full team with a coaching staff and roster but will not play any on-the-record games against the other eight teams. The team will share practice facilities with the Dallas XFL team and is internally known as "Team 9,."
The XFL is planned to have a 10 week regular season, with each team hosting 5 home games, and no bye week. This will be followed by a 2 week post-season, featuring the top 2 teams in each division competing in a single elimination bracket. The league will likely be split into two divisions of four teams. Each team will play all three teams in their division twice, once at home and once away. Each team would also then play the remaining teams in the league once. This is the same schedule model used by the original XFL and by the AAF. Both leagues followed an East/West division, which the XFL also confirmed during its Summer Showcase in Dallas. The XFL East includes New York, DC, Tampa and St. Louis while the West includes Seattle, Los Angeles, Dallas and Houston.
Four games will be played per-week during the regular season, consisting mainly of afternoon/primetime doubleheaders played on Saturdays and Sundays. One game per-week in the final two weeks of the regular season is tentatively scheduled to be played on Thursday night instead of Saturday. The first regular season games are planned for February 8, 2020, the weekend after Super Bowl LIV. The playoffs are, for the time being, slated to feature the same crossover approach used by the 2001 XFL, with each division's regular-season winner facing the other conference's runner-up. The site of the 2020 XFL Championship Game, which will be played April 26, has not been announced.
Luck has denied any plans to move the schedule to the fall and does not intend to either compete with the NFL (as the USFL attempted to do) in the fall or attempt to fill any void that a potential lockout might cause in 2021 (as the United Football League attempted to do).
Players and compensationEdit
The XFL will use a tiered contract system for signing players.
- Tier 1: $25,000 to $60,000 per game: 1 franchise player designation
- Tier 2: $15,000 to $17,500 per game: 3 slots per team
- Tier 3: $6,000 to $10,000 per game: 23 slots per team
- Tier 4: $5,000 to $6,000 per game: 18 slots per team
Plans are for the league to offer contracts between one and three years in length. Signing for a longer term would make the player eligible for a loyalty bonus above and beyond their tiered salary; in return, the player would not be allowed to play in any other league during the spring, summer or autumn months, nor is the contract guaranteed. (This is in particular contrast to the original XFL, where numerous players joined arena football and CFL teams immediately after the end of the season; a few, particularly the kickers and punters, played in the XFL to supplement their own salary during the CFL offseason.) The overall salary cap will be approximately $4,000,000 per team. The tiered system is in contrast to the standard form contract used by the AAF, which paid all players the same amount; the XFL chose a more flexible salary structure so as not to overpay for the lower ends of the roster and to be more competitive for better starting quarterbacks.
Head coaches will be eligible for up to a $500,000 salary, with each team having a football operations staff of 25 people. The XFL explicitly wants to avoid any minor league developmental partnership with the NFL or any other league, so as not to lose control of its personnel decisions. 45 players will be signed to each team's roster, up from 38 in the previous league. In contrast to the original XFL, players' health insurance will be covered by the league. League officials anticipate the players will not have formed a labor union, by the time play commences, thus league policies will not be subject to collective bargaining, which could help prevent work stoppage like a lockout or strike. The league has suggested that players will earn bonuses for each game they win, ensuring each team continues to stay competitive and players have a significant stake in the outcome of each game; this was a feature in the 2001 XFL.
Luck has suggested that the XFL will not have the same eligibility requirements for player as the NFL. Currently the NFL requires all players to be at least 3 years removed from high school to be eligible for a team's roster. Almost all prospects then participate in NCAA football for the 3 year waiting period. This eligibility requirement is an agreement between the NCAA and the NFL, in exchange for not signing young players who would ordinarily play in the NCAA the NFL is allowed nearly unlimited access to scout and recruit college players. With the XFL not using the same set of requirements for players, there is the possibility the league will sign players who are less than 3 years out of high school. The XFL has also not ruled out signing players who play college football in 2019, something the NFL has not done since 1925, which Luck says will be considered on a case-by-case basis; the league's primary target for players will be veteran backups (such as the kind Luck developed in his time in NFL Europe, citing Kurt Warner, Brad Johnson and Jake Delhomme as examples) who may not be getting the repetitions needed to develop properly on NFL scout teams and practice squads. Due to budget concerns and an unwillingness to antagonize the NFL, it does not intend to get into bidding wars for marquee players.
Unlike other alternative football leagues, the XFL will not use a territorial draft and teams will not be restricted to the locations they may select players from.
As McMahon owns a minority stake in DraftKings, the XFL aims to run its official fantasy football and betting operations through that service, if legal hurdles can be cleared. Oliver Luck has stated he anticipates mobile sports betting to be legal in many states by the 2020 launch date, much like it is in New Jersey, and hopes to integrate legal sports betting as part of the XFL. Every state hosting an XFL team, except Florida which has an existing law banning sports betting, has either introduced or passed legislation for the legalization of sports betting. "California also has a pending voter referendum that could legalize sports betting."
In January 2019, Sports Business Journal reported that the XFL was desiring that the majority of games air on broadcast television, and was in preliminary talks with ABC/ESPN and Fox Sports as potential broadcast partners. The XFL officially confirmed these arrangements on May 6, 2019, under a three-year deal. XFL games will be split among ABC, Fox, ESPN, and Fox Sports 1 (with a small number of games tentatively scheduled for ESPN2 and Fox Sports 2). ESPN will hold rights to the championship game. The Wall Street Journal reported via inside sources that neither the broadcasters or the league are making any upfront payments, but that the XFL will sell the in-game sponsorship inventory. The networks will cover the production costs, hold the digital rights to their telecasts, and the right to sell the conventional commercial inventory during their games. Though the networks will have ultimate control over the game presentation, McMahon and his longtime media man Joe Cohen would like to bring back many of the features from the original XFL such as the skycam and the on-field "Bubba Cams," along with some innovations introduced in the AAF.
Upon the announcement of the new XFL, McMahon stated that he aimed to leverage digital streaming as part of broadcasting arrangements, and argued that fans wanted "totally different ways" to see the game, rather than having digital streams be only a straight simulcast of the television broadcast. The XFL will not consider viewership to be a metric of its success; McMahon argued that "to me the landscape has changed in so many different ways. Just look at technology and companies like Facebook and Amazon bidding for sports rights. Even if ratings go down, there's no denying that live sports rights continue to be valuable and continue to deliver." Luck stated that broadcasts would not feature the same sports entertainment gimmicks as the original XFL, explaining that "in football, you don’t need that bravado and swagger and flair, because it’s always there."
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