By Cameron Brock
After 19 years from its lone season, Vince McMahon resurrected the XFL. This time, he has it correct.
Sure, the league isn’t perfect. There will always be tweaks and improvements to make. However, this version of the XFL is better than the NFL. I say that, of course, knowing the NFL’s talent pool blows away the XFL. After all, many XFL players are former practice squad players from NFL teams.
First off, the XFL doesn’t have the stupid celebration penalty. It’s fun! Vince McMahon plays to fan engagement. In the NFL, Roger Goodell is most concerned about the owners of the NFL teams. The owners are his bosses, not the fans. NFL players are not allowed to celebrate in almost any fashion. Goodell will happily hit the players with a fine of thousands of dollars. The referees might as well penalize the players for smiling after a great play. It’s the “No Fun League” for a reason.
While it’s nice to get rid of the celebration penalties, the XFL has destroyed the NFL when it comes to player safety. Not only have they found a way to make the game safer, but the rule changes for safety have made the game more interesting too. In the NFL, we can easily go through an entire game without a kickoff or punt being returned. In the XFL, the kickoff and punt teams have to wait until the ball is caught to start their chase to tackle him. Now, if you haven’t seen a game, you might think this is a ridiculous idea. While the kickoff team has to wait until the returner has caught the football, they’re also about 10 yards away from the return team. There’s no wedge to break up. It looks like a bunch of pawns ready for battle. The kicker must also send the ball past the 20-yard line or else the return team will receive the ball at the opposing 45-yard line. If it’s a touchback, the return team starts at their own 35-yard line. Not only has the XFL made returns safer, they’ve also almost guaranteed a return to take place.
Fourth downs have changed for the better too. Because of the touchback rule, fourth down territory is now considered your own territory. If a team is at its own 45-yard line, their punter may very well send a booming kick to the end zone. Thus, it makes sense to go for it on 4th & 3. A number of times in the D.C. Defenders 31-19 victory over the Seattle Dragons both teams went for it on fourth down as many times as the punted. The teams combined for seven punts and seven fourth down attempts. Interestingly enough, the teams combined to go 5-for-7 on fourth down. It’s no longer a punting down. There’s only punting territory, and it’s a much smaller territory.
Add in the fact that it seems like a team is always in the game, and you have no choice but to continue watching what seems like a blowout. The Tampa Bay Vipers played pathetic during their game against the New York Guardians. Aaron Murray was awful on red zone passes as he would loft them up for grabs rather than throwing darts to his teammates. Ricky Walker was ejected for a punch. New York started off with a 17-0 lead. Head Coach Marc Trestman decided he just wanted to get on the scoreboard in the third quarter by kicking a field goal from the New York 5-yard line. Of course, they eventually lost 23-3, but this was the only team to be favored on the road according to Las Vegas. Sidenote: Vegas did an excellent job on most of their over/under picks. Here’s the thing. At 17-0 in the NFL, it’s a three-possession lead. In the XFL, you can score nine points on one possession. 17-0 is a two-possession game. If you catch a break, the game can turnaround and a 17-point lead can vanish within a trip to the urinal.
There is one massive disappointment about the new version of the XFL. In 2011, the team who received the ball first was determined by a free-for-all race to the football. It was called “The XFL Scramble”. In the first week, a player suffered a season ending injury during The Scramble. That injury is probably the biggest reason it is not a part of the new XFL. It was fun to watch, but don’t expect it to ever return.
Although The Scramble failed to make the cut for the new XFL, you know Vince McMahon was going to make this about the fans. He and Commissioner Oliver Luck engaged with fans throughout the entire set up. One of the best things about the television product is the in-game engagement. A few of the interviews were a bust. At one point a player who agreed to do an interview had to snub Jenny Taft to go back onto the field. He later provided that interview, but there are also coach interviews. One coach said he was too busy while being asked questions on the air. While those were complete flubs, there were also interviews that provided excellent insight. The players are trying to market themselves for bigger and better jobs, perhaps in the NFL. As soon as a major play was over, the player would be interviewed while trying to capture their breath. In one instance, a player even dropped an F-bomb after he was flagged 15 yards just after a bit of a scrum. Other engaging elements are the fact that television viewers can hear play calls and replay reviews. The XFL has done its best to appease to the fans.
Without a doubt, the XFL has reimagined football. In many ways, it is better than the NFL. The talent may not be there, but Vince McMahon and Oliver Luck have proved they are better than Roger Goodell. This time, Vince got it correct.