Columnists, Sports

Between the Lines: XFL 2.0 will be bad, but might help the NFL

The 2017 NFL season has not been lacking storylines. Players kneeling during the national anthem caused a feud with the president, injuries plagued rosters across the league, and domestic violence and concussions are still at the forefront of league issues that must be handled.

While these storylines all seem to paint a bleak picture on the state of the league, the NFL in 2017 is bigger and better than ever, yet not without its flaws.

Like any other industry, if you are all alone at the top and have no one to compare yourself to, it becomes challenging to self-evaluate, innovate and progress. This is exactly why the news about the XFL launch in 2020 is so much more than just a flashy show.

Back in 2001, World Wrestling Federation champion Vince McMahon and NBC partnered together to bring football fans the XFL — a professional football league that took place during the NFL offseason to provide football fans with professional football all year long.

A can’t-miss concept in the eyes of some turned out to be a massive failure in reality.

Once the league began, it felt less like teams were competing in a professional football contest and more like over-dramatized events that someone would expect of the WWF.

As the season proceeded, the XFL continued to lose the respect of sports media. Many media outlets stopped reporting on the league altogether, and the league that was supposed to compete with the NFL became a joke.

NBC and the WWF both lost $35 million on their $100 million investment in 2001, and the league ended after only one season.

But last Thursday, McMahon announced that he would be bringing back the XFL, and this time, he vows it will be different.

Despite the league being a massive failure, some of the perceived crazy ideas the XFL had are actually some of the best features of the NFL today.

I’m sure you love those Sound FX videos the NFL puts together. Well, you can thank the XFL for the idea of putting microphones on the players while they are on the field. Or take the on-the-field SkyCam for example. This cool gimmick started by NBC in 2001 for the XFL is now a staple in NFL broadcasts in 2017.

Innovations like these are possible because the lesser leagues need to create ways to enhance the experience and create intrigue, which is why the NFL needs the XFL again.

Just like the American Football League in the 60s, the World Football League in the 70s or the United States Football League in the 80s before it, the NFL will again be able to pull the best talent and ideas created by a league that has no real chance of competing with them.

This is not to say the new XFL will be a success. In fact, it’s likely that it won’t be.

The 2001 version of the XFL tried to build a rebellious and overly-masculine brand that was reminiscent of a simpler time in football. A time of fantasy, where there were no concussions, you just “got your bell rung” and overtly sexualized cheerleaders dated the star players.

Now the 2020 version of the XFL is aligning itself with law and order. McMahon said the league will not allow any player who has ever been arrested (yes, arrested, not convicted) and that players will be required to stand for the national anthem.

McMahon says, the goal of the league is to “give the game of football back to the fans” and adding that the league “will have nothing to do with politics … and nothing to do with social issues either.”

So far, McMahon is all over the place with his comments on the league. While considering rules that are inherently political, he says the league will be anything but political.

This is spelling out disaster so far for a league that is still two years away from being able to put anywhere from mediocre to bad football out on the field.

It’s likely to be a failure just like version 1.0, but we can all hope XFL 2.0 will help improve the NFL.

Maybe the XFL will force the NFL to figure out ways to make football less reliable on traditional cable television deals and more accessible to “cord cutters.” Or possibly get them to understand and support the players and their opinions, especially regarding speaking out on social issues.

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