In 2001, the WWE (then the WWF) and NBC launched the XFL, a no-holds-barred football league that served as a supplement to the NFL, whose broadcast rights NBC didn’t have at the time. A documentary that debuted earlier this year regarding the long-defunct league ended with WWE owner Vince McMahon and former NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol musing about a revival.
Now, out of nowhere, rumors of a potential return of the XFL have surfaced, with Brad Shepard reporting that McMahon is “looking to bring back the XFL and may announce it on January 25th, 2018.”
The WWE, when asked to confirm or deny a potential XFL reboot by David Bixenspan of Deadspin.com, said this: “Vince McMahon has established and is personally funding a separate entity from WWE, Alpha Entertainment, to explore investment opportunities across the sports and entertainment landscapes, including professional football. Mr. McMahon has nothing further to announce at this time.”
That’s far from a denial, and it feels like an implicit confirmation.
Arguably, the time may be right for the XFL or something like it. A November 2016 Sports Illustrated article regarding the current state of football in America created the distinct impression that fans want old-school football, with all the big hits and none of the obsessions over safety.
“Those attitudes from fans coupled with the messages that invariably will be sent by the incoming Commander-in-Chief,” we wrote on November 16, 2016, “suggest that the time may be right for someone to roll the dice with $250 million or so in the hopes of launching a football league that would essentially operate like a modern-day XFL — loud, proud, violent, brutal, bloody, and everything that the NFL was before political, legal, and social sensitivities forced the league to change.”
The XFL may not compete with the NFL; McMahon suggested in his comments to Ebersol that the league could be connected.
“I don’t know what it would be,” McMahon said. “I don’t know if it’s gonna be another XFL or what it may be or how different I would make it. It seems like in some way it would tie in either with the NFL itself or the owners.”
And then Ebersol said this, which becomes a lot more intriguing in light of recent developments: “Well, certainly the most adventurous owner is Jerry Jones.”
Currently, there’s a disconnect of sorts between what the NFL gives fans and what the fans want (and what the players want to do). Even with everything everyone now knows about the risks of football, players would sign up in droves to play football like it was played 20 or 30 years ago, with helmet-to-helmet hits on defenseless players, crack-back blocks, full-speed collisions, and everything else that football was before the NFL decided to make changes on its own before politicians forced the NFL to do so.
For decades, pro football leagues other than the NFL have launched and then failed. But the time could be right to give fans and players exactly what they want, especially since the NFL in many ways arguably no longer is.
Right, wrong, or otherwise, there’s potentially a lot of money to be made by someone who is willing to say, “Let’s make football football again.” In the current political climate, roughly half of America would embrace it.
Especially if the players are required to stand for the national anthem.