I need to stop getting ideas for blog posts from stuff I read on Uproxx. I love that site, but where’s all my originality? Anyways, they had an article today revisiting the XFL…. for some reason. I have no idea what prompted it, and wouldn’t be surprised if at one point an editor over there said “Holy shit, I completely forgot that was a thing that actually happened.” The article had a link to an interview Bob Costas did with Vince McMahon around the time the league was starting to circle the drain. I watched the first half of it.
Two things jumped out to me regarding the video and the article. Firstly, I remember the XFL very differently than what Vince was promoting in that interview. Secondly, I think it could have worked if they had taken a different approach. I’m now going to do that thing where I pontificate without doing virtually any fact checking despite the fact that it would be very easy to do. I’ll rely on my some what spotty memory and ignore any factual errors since no one actually reads this blog.
Going back to that first point, I remember a lot of the promotion of the XFL, especially from Stone Cold, or the Rock, was highlighting the fact that it was supposed to be better than the NFL. More bad ass. It would give the fans what they really wanted. I remember thinking that this was a terrible idea. It was fine to promote yourself as an alternative, but to say you are better was just asking for a beat down. In the interview I watched, Vince basically stated that NFL football, the play on the field, is the best, but that the XFL had a quality product once teams got more practice time in and got acclimated to the rules.
The second point, and the one I wanted to explore, was my thought that the XFL could probably have worked, but only if it had taken a different approach. I really think they did them selves a disservice by trying to combine the whole WWF Attitude thing with football. Having WWF announcers and wrestlers do promos for the games may have made sense for week one when there was a novelty factor, but after that, it just seemed campy. Your taking something that is staged, but with real athletes, and trying to force it on real athletes who are doing something that is impossible to script. The was an incongruity to it that was almost palpable.
If the XFL was to work the first thing you would need to do is divorce it from wrestling. Maybe not a full divorce, but at least a trial separation. I think that for the rest of my ideas on how an XFL, or just a plain alternative pro football league could work, lets pretend like it was launched today.
As far as the play on the field, it’s hard to top the NFL since they have been refining it for the last 80 years. Still there are probably some tweaks they could make that would set them apart without making it seem too gimicky. The first tweak would be regarding the kicking game. Make it illegal to kick a ball out of bounds. Just like they do on kick offs where a ball kicked off the sidelines resulting in a placement at the 40, extend this to the back of the endzone. This way every kick has a chance of being returned, and in fact make it so you can’t call fair catches or down the ball on a kick or punt. It won’t result in a ton of crazy highlights on every kickoff, but it should add one or two more per game.
Speaking of kicking, anything over 50 yards is 4 points, and extra points are from the 25 yard line. If you block an extra point you can try to take it the other way. Not sure why that isn’t an option in the NFL.
Uniforms – I’ve heard it mentioned that having a hard shell for a helmet is actually one of the worse things you can do to prevent concussions. If this league would want to succeed it would need to embrace emerging technologies, especially when it comes to player protection. So have a similar helmet but with a soft leather outer shell that can displace some of the energy created during a collision. Add in the Gforce meters for added safety.
Another game change that would need to be considered is shrinking the number of players on the field at one time. I think that while the number in the NFL, 11, is good, this league would benefit by having only three lineman, with a mandatory two TEs on the line for each snap. It would allow for more room for skill players to move around – less crowded. Also go with the college rule of only needing one foot in bounds for a catch. Anything that makes it easier for a team to move the ball. Nothing worse than having people at home watching a bunch of scrubs in a battle of field position. I also think the college time keeping system in the last 2 or so minutes where a first down stops the clock, would need to be implemented.
Each team would need to be backed by a former Star. I’m not sure exactly how this would work, but starting out a new league and trying to pretend there is beef between two teams that have never played before is fucking silly. Instead imagine a team that is owned/represented by Joe Montana playing against a team under Dan Marino. Barry Sanders vs. Eddie George. You get the idea. I’m not sure what the official capacity would be, but something that would give it a more organic flare or flavor to separate the teams beyond what ever random cities would actually support a team.
The key to something like that is you wouldn’t want to go to far and make it all about the former stars and do cheesy promos with them as if this alternate pro league football matchup is goign to settle some beef leftover from their NFL days. In fact it doesn’t have to be just NFL guys, but have other athletes or celebs put their brand behind a team might work as long as the individual or group isn’t cheesy. I know KISS has an arena league team, and that seems lame as hell to me cause that rock band is all about marketing. Bon Jovi with the Philadelphia… soul? with the arena league was a different animal. Imagine a team owned by Metallica going up against a team owned by Floyd Mayweather. I could get behind that.
Speaking of former NFL stars, the goal couldn’t just be to put young an up and coming players who may have been missed by the NFL. You would need to have guys like Terrel Ownes, players past their prime, looking for a pay check, still has some star appeal, but maybe not as good at this point as a guy fresh out of college that didn’t make an NFL practice squad. If you are designing those two characters on madden, the young guy might be a 65 and TO a 63, so it would benefit the Team more to have the young guy with the 65 rating, but for the sovency of the league it would be better to have TO with a rating of 63. Now, not all TOs, but just one or two per team would be good, just so you have people at home going, holy shit, I wondered what happened to “That Guy”.
I also think the XFL had a good idea with having the fans getter better access to the players, but they did that in some of the worse ways possible, like by stalking them during the game like they were celebs at LAX and the XFL camera men were the paparazzi. Instead you could have voting via twitter, or text, or whatever, for the game MVP. Between plays, put more emphasis on some of the players, and not so much on analysis of the play that just happened, especially if it wasn’t a particularly interesting play.
Flash on the screen the players twitter handles along with their other stats.
Obviously this could go to far and you could have stuff where you vote on benching a struggling player; that should still be up to the coaches. More polls might not be a bad thing during the game however, provided fans watching the games actually voted. In a similar vein you could have fans tweeting in questions for the broadcasters, especially when they have a guest in the booth which you would want to do fairly often. The guest wouldn’t need to just be a football person, and if they have something to plug, fine whatever. It would be a tough juggling act since the guest drop in use to be a thing they did in NFL games but don’t really do any more.
This should be obvious, but the season should be short. Have several scrimmages between teams before the season starts so that it looks like real football for week 1. Don’t air the preseason games/scrimmages, and in fact you might even want those games to be played in cities that don’t have a team just to generate some buzz nation wide in larger markets. This would also make the idea of seeing a home game slightly more exclusive for the regular season than if they had a bunch of pre season games in their home market.
Speaking of playing in other cities, why not have each team have to play one game abroad. Mexico, Japan, China, Germany, Sweden, Australia, South Africa. Set the games during NFLs off season and have the teams play an odd number of games like 11. five home games. Five road games. And one international game where the time of the game is conducive to that country’s market. This may mean that one of the games a team plays wouldn’t air over here live until 7 am. But it’s just one game where some US fans might not want to get up to watch, but if you could set up an ongoing sister cities thing, that might be huge down the line.
Imagine an XFL team that is based out of Reno, also having a yearly game in Sidney Australia. It would also be a nice fringe benefit for the players on those teams to see some parts of the world and travel. Give them an extra week during that trip so they play at home on a sunday and then instead of flying over seas and playing the next sunday, have them go over there, tour, glad hand the locals, play the following tuesday, and then not play till the following sunday. So three games in the course of four sundays. Since it is already a shortened schedule this would count as their sort of bye week.
Ok I think I’m out of ideas for the most part. Oh wait one more. Embrace technology. I think I said that before, but what I mean here is that stuff like first downs, instead of having the ref put the ball down and bring out the chains, put sensors in the football that will allow an automatic triangulation of where the ball is when it is spotted and if it has reached the line of gain. Just speed up that whole process. Same goes with instant replay. Don’t have the field judge go under the hood, just have someone in the booth or at the home office quickly rule within 90 seconds.
I can’t believe I forgot one of the biggest things, Celebrations. I think that the NFL is way too strict on it’s players having fun during a game, but the NFL is cautionary tale of what the opposite looks like and it wasn’t good. So bring back dunking over the goal post, but no endzone dances that last more than 15 seconds. Yes you can mike up players, but no they can’t have incomprehensible nick names instead of their real names on their jersey. Yeah go ahead and put advertisements on their uniforms, but don’t make it look obnoxious.