Football has been apart of American lives since the early 1900s. College football was the first level that caught popularity, and eventually the National Football League became the most popular professional league in the world. Throughout its lifespan, the NFL has hosted 52 total super bowls with many more to come, and as a fan of football, I’ve loved every second of it (even if my team has never won any, but still). But at times, the NFL has had its down moments too. Facing player safety issues, concussion protocol, and the rest. The NFL has tried to do its part in making football more safe for the players. In doing so, they’ve earned the nickname, “The No Fun League.” No longer is a big hit on a wide receiver running down the middle a spectacle to behold, but instead, it’s a penalty. At one point, Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL, had touchdown celebrations removed (thanks to Chad Johnson, Steve Smith and Terrel Owens for one of the most exciting seasons of all time). The NFL has gotten better through the past few years however, allowing more touchdown celebrations, and showcasing the highest level of football for everyone to enjoy. But there seems to be something missing. A connection, if you will, to the fans of the game. There’s also a problem with the referees consistently missing calls, which at times makes it hard to watch.
Now don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love watching football on Sundays… and Thursdays and Mondays, and I won’t ever revere away from that. However, I’d be blind and stupid to not realize the NFL’s mishaps too. Thankfully, there’s another professional league amongst us. It brings beer chugging, touchdown celebrations, and cup snakes all together into one glorious event. It also raises the bar for refereeing to entirely new levels, and offers an inside look fans have never had access to before. I’m of course talking about the XFL. The one time, odd-ball league of the early 2000s that allowed nicknames on the back of jerseys, to the now, ambitiously fun professional football league. The XFL is here, and we better treat it well, other wise we’ll lose it. The league is pure fun, it’s good for the NFL, and there’s actually some things the rest of the sporting world can take away. So here are my reasons as to why the XFL should be here for the long term.
The XFL is officially halfway through its first regular season (they signed a 3 year deal with the networks), and I can’t wait for the second half. The first thing that really separates the XFL from the NFL, is the XFL just oozes fun. I can’t get enough of the touchdown celebrations. These guys are literally jumping into the stands, grabbing beers from fans and chugging them right there in the end zone. You don’t see stuff like that in any other sports league out there. This is a truly “for the fans” environment the XFL has created. Washington DC is over 4000 miles away from where I live, and I want to travel there for a Defenders home game just to take part in building that giant cup snake. The tickets are cheap, costing a family of four roughly $284 (according to Team Marketing Report). That same family would have to spend nearly double that (on average) to go to a NFL game. AND you get to chug beers with the players. Sign. Me. Up.
In addition to the fun, comes the sideline interviews. For viewers at home, we have the pleasure of watching a sideline reporter conduct a short interview with players that just scored, made a big play, or even caused a turnover. I can’t imagine the emotions going through a QB’s head being asked “what was going on out there?” after throwing an interception in a crucial part of a game. I for one, love the sideline interview. A lot of these players in the XFL are not big name super stars. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a little star power in the league, but most people have never heard of a majority of these athletes. These sideline interviews allow for the fans to get to know these guys throughout the season. It builds a story around the players and it makes me root for all of these guys to get a second chance in the NFL.
It’s Good for the NFL
NFL teams are constantly looking for top talent. Free agency opens up soon, and the NFL Draft is next month. But now with this new professional league, the NFL has another source to find talent. In my opinion, the XFL will never become as large, or popular as the NFL, but I think where the XFL can survive for years to come, is as a supplement to the National Football League. The XFL has already stated they’ll be looking at college athletes to come play in their league, which could be a huge blow to the NCAA (we’ll keep an eye on that). For the NFL, there would be no difference. That same college recruit is still going and playing the same game and learning along the way.
In week 5, it was reported that NFL scouts attended the Houston Roughnecks game to watch their starting QB, PJ Walker. The one time Temple quarterback has been playing out of his mind since the start of the XFL season. So far throwing for 1,338 yards, with a 15-4 touchdown-interception ratio. Walker is making his case for re-entering back into the league since being released by the Colts in August 2019. He’s not the only one though, wide receiver Cam Phillips has been on a tear from the start of the season. With nearly 500 yards and 9 touchdowns, Phillips has been Walker’s go to target since week one. In addition to those two, Jordan Ta’amu (QB St. Louis Battlehawks) has thrown for over 1000 yards with a 72% completion percentage, making his case for the NFL as well. There’s also impressive play on the defensive side of the ball. Steven Johnson (LB, Seattle Dragons) leads the league with 20 tackles, and Mike Stevens (CB, LA Wildcats) is the leader in picks with 2. NFL scouts now have more insight on how these guys may contribute to their teams in the future, and they have the XFL to thank for it.
Now a real challenge the XFL will be facing is how the NCAA will react to the XFL possibly poaching players to leave college and play in a professional league. In my experience, a lot of athletes are in college with the soul focus of playing sports. Their goal is to go pro and get paid to play the sport they love. I’m just saying, if I were college athlete and an XFL team hit me up after my freshman year, I’d be tempted to leave. The reason being is these guys will get paid in the XFL, and if education really is that important to them, they can continue to further their education by taking online classes. There are rumors that maybe one day the NCAA will start paying their players, but until then, this could be a situation that gets sticky. We won’t know how it goes until late 2020/early 2021. So we’ll bookmark this subject for another time.
Referees and Review Process
This is easily my most favorite part of the XFL. The fact the head ref is mic’d up during the game is absolutely incredible. Being able to just listen to the discussion while the referees try to make a decision makes it so refreshing. I love that I know the call, AND know the reason WHY they’re calling it the way they are. And to sweeten the deal, the review process is the best I’ve ever seen in any sports league. It’s excruciating to watch NFL refs take (what feels like) five hours just to rule the play a fumble… and be wrong. Even if you watch other sports. It seems like the referees and umpires are keeping everyone from knowing what’s going. The XFL instead removes any questions in doubt and we get to listen in on the review, and the conversations that take place. Not only is it educational and clear, but the XFL literally has a rule set in place where reviews can’t take any longer than 60 seconds to come up with a finalized decision. The XFL took the review system and made it substantially better, to the point where I think every sports league should adopt this rule. Can you imagine MLB umpires being mic’d up?
Even with the fantastic review system, the XFL referees still missed a call in the Dragons – Roughnecks game on Saturday. PJ Walker’s knee was down, which should have turned the ball over on downs, but the refs called it first down, ending the game on the spot. The XFL posted an apology (something I’ve never seen a sports league do before) and they reassigned Wes Booker, the Officiating Supervisor of that game. Despite the beer chugging, and fan interaction, the XFL has been beyond professional in handling mishaps. I applaud Oliver Luck and Vince McMahon for putting together an incredible league. I can’t wait to see where the XFL goes from here.