Wednesday, February 28, 2024

More Football: The XFL is Back

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The XFL is back. After an exciting start to the alternate professional football league in 2020, the league ended play after only five weeks due to the onset of the pandemic – and later filed for bankruptcy. However, the XFL, or Xtreme Football League, was purchased soon after by an investor group led by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who sought to revitalize the promising project. With much time and money invested, the group is determined for the league to work out. Three years later, the XFL is live two weeks into its 10-week regular season schedule. And this time around, the XFL looks poised to stay. The Rock and his partners already secured a five-year agreement with ESPN and The Walt Disney Company for exclusive broadcasting rights, making it easy for sports fans to watch. 

The regular season began on Feb. 18, 2023, and is composed of eight teams split into two divisions. The North Division includes the D.C. Defenders, Seattle Sea Dragons, St. Louis Battle Hawks, and Vegas Vipers. The South Division includes the Arlington Renegades, Houston Roughnecks, Orlando Guardians, San Antonio Brahmas. After the regular season finishes, the top two teams in each division will compete in the playoffs on Apr. 29-30. My advice: pick a team now and stick with them. I have enjoyed rooting for the Vegas Vipers thus far (even though they are winless).

The league not only offers more, watchable football during a period without the NFL or college football taking place but also offers a unique and fun set of rule changes. For instance, instead of kicking an extra point after scoring a touchdown, teams can attempt a 1-point play from the 2-yard line, a 2-point play from the 5 and a 3-point play from the 10. Also, in overtime scenarios, teams are given three plays from the opponents’ 5-yard line. Perhaps the coolest change is that teams in the fourth quarter can line up for one offensive play to get 15 yards in order to maintain possession after a score instead of trying an onside kick. This new rule came into effect in the St. Louis Battlehawks’ comeback win against the San Antonio Brahmas in week one and proved to offer an exciting twist to the game. Despite these quirks, the game still remains similar enough to the one we all know and love.

That is partially by design. The XFL announced a partnership program with the NFL focused on learning and innovation for the game of football in February 2021. The XFL is not competing with the NFL by operating with different rules, but the XFL will be a testing ground for rules that could potentially end up in the NFL. With open sharing of game trends and data between the two leagues, the goal is to enhance player protection and overall play. The XFL will also test new equipment and seek to develop prospective officials and coaches. So if you are an NFL fan, there are a lot of reasons to have an interest in the XFL as well. 

NFL fans will also recognize familiar faces on XFL rosters. Of course, the most notable XFL player may be Seattle Sea Dragons receiver Josh Gordon, who formerly played for the Cleveland Browns and other teams: earning All-Pro honors in 2013, but flaming out of the league due to failed drug tests. Former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback A.J. McCarron, former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant, and former Atlanta Falcon defensive end Vic Beasley also represent just some of the crossover between the two leagues. There are former NFL players serving as coaches in the new league as well – such as Hines Ward, Rod Woodson, and Anthony Becht. 

Only two weeks into its regular season, it is definitely not too late to start following the XFL. The league is in good hands, and will hopefully stick around for a long time to come.

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