Will the XFL work this time around?

Bradley Piros, Sports Editor

It’s that time of year again. Football season is over, right? Wrong! It’s just getting good. If you haven’t heard about the return of the Extreme Football League (XFL), then you must be living under a rock. I’m here to talk about how and why it will succeed on its second go around as well as why it bombed the first time back in 2001.

First, a little bit of the league’s history. The original XFL was a combined venture between the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and NBC. NBC had lost the rights to air NFL games in 1998 and were desperate to garner ratings and get football back. Luckily for them, Vince McMahon, chairman and CEO of the WWE, had a wonderful rendition of spring football called the XFL.

The two companies somehow thought it was going to be a good idea to try and mix the sport of American football with the entertainment of WWF-style wrestling and other shenanigans; it wasn’t. Sure, ratings soared for the first week or two, but then they absolutely plummeted. The companies tried everything to revive the dying league, but they couldn’t and it folded after just one season in 2001.

Now, I mentioned shenanigans, and I’m sure you’re wondering, “what kind of shenanigans?” The list includes things like: flying a blimp over an Oakland Raiders game only for it to crash into a seafood restaurant, WWF-style promos before games, extremely underdressed cheerleaders and insanely dumb and dangerous rules. I don’t want to focus any more on the old XFL, so if you really want to learn more funny and outright unbelievable facts about the 2001 campaign, there are countless articles and YouTube videos out there to enjoy.

Now, why is the XFL going to work this time around? I’m going to start with the fact that McMahon is going to be hands off all football operations, or at least he says so. McMahon is primarily the financial backbone of this league. Last time around, he dropped a modest $100 million to kick-start the project. It was a “colossal failure” according to McMahon and he lost around $35 million on the venture. Luckily, the man is worth $2.2 billion and losing $35 million to him is the equivalent to me losing one single dollar. So, this time he put his money where his mouth is and is willing to put $500 million down to ensure he doesn’t look like an idiot again.

So, the company has a great financial backing, now they just need someone to manage football operations. Insert Oliver Luck. He’s the commissioner and CEO of the XFL. He’s the one who gets to make the decisions about what happens on the field. And I think that’s the major factor here. Last time, McMahon did it all and blurred the lines between wrestling entertainment and football. Fans didn’t want to see that, they wanted to see just football. This time, the company is taking things seriously and making every decision like it could be their last.

So yeah, it’s got financial support and a commissioner who actually knows football and has kind of been in this position before, but what about the actual football on the field? How will it rival the NFL? With intriguing new rules, that’s how.

Now, huge disclaimer, I’m no huge pro football fan. I watch the big college matchups and I start watching the NFL around Week 14 when it gets interesting. I never really cared about the Rams when they were in St. Louis and never hopped on the Chiefs’ bandwagon. I couldn’t name more than 25 current NFL players to save my life and sure don’t know all the rules, but hey, neither do the refs. So, straight from the XFL’s website, here are five gameplay innovations.

Let’s start with the kickoff, obviously. There are lots of rule changes here, mainly where the players on the field are positioned and potential penalties. The kicker kicks from the 35-yard line while the returning team lines up on their 30-yard line. Each team must have exactly three players outside the hash marks on both sides of the ball and cannot move until  the returner catches the ball. The rules also state that out of bound kicks and kicks that fall short of the 20-yard line will result in a penalty, where the ball will then be placed on the kicking team’s 45-yard line. The other big one for kickoffs is that there are no more surprise on-side kicks. My favorite new rule is the point-after touchdown system. The NFL is mainly just kicking the extra point, hardly ever going for the two-point conversion. In the XFL, the scoring team will have the option to run a play from the two, five or 10-yard line, worth one, two and three points, respectively. No kicking plays are allowed. Personally, I love this. It creates the opportunity for unique scoring scenarios, unlike traditional football. Some of the same rules for kickoff apply to punting on fourth down. Punts that go out of bounds or in the opponents’ end zone will result in a “major” touchback and the ball will be placed on the 35-yard line. This means you can’t pin opponents at their own 2-yard line by the ball bouncing out of play. This new rule encourages teams to go for it more often on fourth down, which is always more exciting.

The next rule regards forward passes. If a team completes a forward pass behind the line of scrimmage, that team may throw a second forward pass, as long as the ball has not crossed the line of scrimmage. Once the ball has passed the line of scrimmage, no more forward passes are allowed.

The last, and maybe the biggest change is overtime. Overtime will consist of five rounds, staged in alternating single-play possession, just like a shootout in the NHL or MLS. A “round” will consist of one offensive play per team. Each possession starts at the opponent’s 5-yard line and the offensive team has one play to score. The team with more points after five rounds is the winner. Each successful score is worth two points and the defensive team cannot score. If the offense fails, the play is dead. There are lots of other rules about overtime, timing changes (25-second play clock) and what they call “common sense rules” on their official website. I didn’t cover nearly all of it, so I encourage you to go check it out because they actually use videos of what a play might look like as well which is very helpful.

All the new rules may seem overwhelming and confusing, but at least it’s going to be exciting. I enjoy most, if not all, the rule changes that I’ve read through. They all lead up to a new faster, more thrilling and joyful to watch style of football, and that’s what it’s all about.

I hope the XFL sticks around and I hope people actually care about it. Everyone claims they want more football, but don’t always want to show it any love in the spring.

When the Alliance of American Football was around, people thoroughly enjoyed it and the XFL initially gained viewership. Getting people in is pretty easy because everyone wants to see the new thing, but keeping those people around is the big issue.

Will the XFL be able to overcome their past and actually stick around for a while? I think so and really hope so. Week 1 actions kicks off this weekend with four games airing on ABC, FOX and ESPN. And as always, let’s go BattleHawks!