It's now official – if everything goes according to plan, the XFL will be returning in 2020, as Vince McMahon hopes to exorcise the demons of the original, failed 2001 iteration of the league. He's promised a league free of unnecessary gimmicks, with all the funding coming from his deep pockets, McMahon owning all the teams, and faster-paced games featuring eight teams playing a 10-week schedule. That's the bulk of what we know so far, but with the league still about two years away from relaunching, it's a good idea to stop and think of the ways McMahon can ensure the new XFL doesn't flop like the old league did.
For starters, one thing that could help the XFL succeed in its second iteration is the presence of actual, big-name talents. If Vince can afford paying top dollar for the best the NCAA has to offer, he might as well try luring them over. It wouldn't hurt to have recognizable names from the NFL either, provided they can still play at a high level. High-profile flops like Tim Tebow (whom McMahon mentioned in his XFL announcement) and Robert Griffin III are still potential draws who won't be too old to start at quarterback by the time the XFL launches. If Tebow's baseball dreams don't go beyond the minors and if RG3 still isn't able to resurrect his once-promising career by 2020, the XFL just might, and we repeat might, give them a chance to become the next Tommy Maddox. (Who, for those who don't remember, was an NFL draft bust who went from the XFL to the starting QB spot in Pittsburgh, right before they drafted Ben Roethlisberger.)
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But what about Johnny Manziel, who reportedly tweeted his interest in playing? By 2020, "Johnny Football" will be 27-years-old, and assuming he comes remotely close to acting his age by that time, he sounds like someone whom the XFL could take a chance on, as he's a well-known name whom fans would likely love to hate due to his long history of off-the-field shenanigans. In short, he looks as close as you could get to being the XFL's answer to an alpha heel. However, he looks to have no chance in hell of joining Vince McMahon's all-new XFL. According to ESPN, McMahon doesn't just want an XFL without "gimmicks," but also a squeaky-clean league where players with "any criminality associated with them" are automatically unwelcome to play.
However, if McMahon wants his new XFL to be as gimmick-free as it is wholesome, one thing he would need to do is to throw those NFL comparisons out of the window once and for all. It didn't work in 2001, as many felt that Vince was talking out of his rear-end by hyping the XFL as a plausible, and probably better alternative to the "No Fun League." The NFL has been around for close to a century, so there's really no use in competing with the undisputed leader in American football. And there's no need either to make politically-charged digs at the NFL, as McMahon appeared to have done when he announced the return of the XFL. If McMahon really wants a league without social or political issues mixing in with the football, he shouldn't even have referenced Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players who kneel during the national anthem.
Indeed, the focus should be on the football, and that should mean making sure everyone has ample time to prepare before the start of the new league's maiden season. As players on the original XFL teams had very little time to gel before the action got underway, that resulted in some substandard, even barely watchable football back in 2001. Likewise, the rules of the game should remain relatively untouched, instead of introducing newfangled rules that prove to be too risky or end up making no sense. Case in point: the opening "scramble" for possession in lieu of the time-honored coin toss, no fair catch rule, etc. McMahon may want the XFL game to be faster than the NFL game, but there are better ways to do this than trying to fix something that isn't broken.
Lastly, Vince McMahon's "no gimmicks" mantra for his new XFL should not extend to the banning of post-touchdown or sack celebrations. McMahon should let his players be human, and at least let them bust a move in the end zone, or after someone stuffs the quarterback during a crucial third-down play. And while he did promise "entertainment with football," it certainly shouldn't go as far as having Corey Graves, for instance, start a wrestling-style feud with a coach he doesn't like (much like Jesse Ventura did to NY/NJ Hitmen coach Rusty Tillman in the old XFL), or Vince bullying a cameraman into providing exclusive footage from the cheerleaders' locker room.
While we may often make fun of the original XFL as one of Vince McMahon's biggest follies, we'll be lying if we said his plans to bring the league back aren't interesting. But it behooves him to be true to his word by avoiding the mistakes of the past, while offering a product centered on good football, instead of promoting style over substance and trying vainly to one-up the established NFL.
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