I’ve said it once and I will say it again. There are only two REAL seasons in the United States of America. There is “football season” and then there is “waiting for football season.” I also don’t know if any of you noticed but certain parts of Paso Robles got all the way down 21 degrees on Monday night breaking the previous low temperature of 23 degrees which happened back in 1995.
Coincidence? I think not. Even Mother Nature herself was depressed as she watched football season grow ever smaller in the review mirror as she headed down the highway towards Winter. Well, friends, I come bearing gifts. This weekend, football is back with the XFL, a professional football league owned by Vince McMahon’s Alpha Entertainment. You might be thinking to yourself, wait a minute, I remember that there was a spring football league last season and it folded up like a tent in wind before the completion of a full year. Or, you might be thinking to yourself, wait a minute, I remember back in 2001 when the XFL tried the first time to create a spring football league that had dudes with nicknames like “He Hate Me” and was basically a 22 man royal rumble for 60 minutes.
If you had either of these thoughts you are correct. The Alliance of American football (AAF) did begin and end last year and the XFL did try to do this unsuccessfully in 2001 but I think there is reason to be optimistic about this reincarnation and let me tell you why.
Vince McMahon may be a loon with a couple of screws loose that is also off his rocker but he is also undoubtedly a very successful businessman who has kept wrestling relevant for more than two decades. You cannot run something that hugely popular for that long and not have to reinvent yourself along the way and innovate to keep up with times.
This is why the XFL can work because McMahon has learned from his mistakes and the mistakes of those who came before him. First and foremost, the original incarnation of the XFL was aiming to be “more football” than everyone else and learned very quickly that you cannot and will not compete with the NFL. Now, it was a dumb idea and one I wouldn’t expect McMahon to make with him being such an innovator but if you want to break into an established market, be it football, or writing, or anything really, you must do it by being different. You can’t be better than those who have already been doing it their way for year and years, you have to do it your way and carve you own lane. The new XFL is doing exactly that.
This version of the XFL will be viewed more as a developmental league. Why is that so important? Well for starters, that makes the NFL an ally. They aren’t competing anymore and when I say competing some of you might think I’m talking about the players but I’m not. It’s the competing for marketing dollars and TV contracts. If the NFL doesn’t want you to exist they will wipe you from the planet and delete your name from the annals of history but now with the XFL trying out new rules and audio technology that could eventually trickle upwards to the NFL, their interests are aligned.
The XFL has several new rules and procedures that will look very un-football to you but have also tweaked the game in some really fun ways. My personal favorite rule, no kicking extra points. Never, as in ever. Once teams score they will have the option to go for a one-point conversion, a two-point conversion and if they are especially desperate, even a three-point conversion.
The kickoffs are also structured differently and look incredibly weird but not only is their format safer, but also more exciting as they are actually encouraging returns and excitement. Teams in the XFL will be penalized for kicking it into the endzone because they want ACTION.
The pace of play will also be a lot faster and more frenetic as the XFL has implemented a 25-second play clock as opposed to the 40-second clock in the NFL. Did I mention that halftime is only 10 minutes?
I am in favor of all of these changes and looking forward to them but I also understand I like change and improving things (even if they are good already because better is always better) and not everyone does. I can already hear the football purists crying about how it was “back in my day” and I am sure that will be one of their greatest hurdles but that is something that McMahon has also accounted for this time around.
The XFL has TV contracts with both ESPN and FOX. That is huge. Having the games on a station people can find is half the battle. Being able to be connected to the casual fan is key in a startup, something the AAF learned the hard way as people went back to watching the Food Network after 5 minutes of looking for a game they didn’t want to watch that bad in the first place. Access is key.
The last tweak they made is very small and I’m not even certain it will make much of a difference but is the most interesting to me. In the XFL, you can have a double forward pass. This wrinkle is small but could be profound. This opens up a whole new world of potential trick plays that aren’t instantly ousted due to alignment.
The games start this weekend and will be played on Saturdays throughout the spring. Take a peek, see if you like it, let me know what you think!