WWE chairman Vince McMahon is rebooting his 2001 football league
On March 12, the XFL announced it was canceling the rest of its regular season.
While the XFL didn't specifically cite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as the reason for the decision, the NBA, MLB, NHL, the NCAA, and many other leagues have suspended operations and canceled games and championship tournaments in response to this global public health threat.
In the wake of the failure of the Alliance of American Football (AAF), and with the recent shutdown of the Arena Football League, a familiar face has returned to the professional football scene to try and fill the void. World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) chairman Vince McMahon has resurrected the XFL just in time for the new year.
The league will kick off once again in February 2020 — the week following Super Bowl LIV. How fitting that the XFL is launching at the exact same time as the AAF did last year. Ahead of the league's relaunch, here's everything you need to know about the rebooted XFL.
What does XFL stand for?
In all honesty, this has never been defined. When McMahon announced the launch of the first XFL back in 1999, the assumption was that XFL stood for "Xtreme Football League" based on the league's ties to the WWE (then known as the World Wrestling Federation). But McMahon stated that this was not the case. And while the F and L were obvious (football league), there was no true meaning for the "X". McMahon did joke in an interview at the time that, "if the NFL stood for the 'No-Fun-League,' the XFL stands for the 'Xtra-Fun-League.'"
Who's in charge of the XFL?
The league is owned by Vince McMahon through his company Alpha Entertainment, which he personally funded. McMahon is best known for his ownership of WWE, the most successful professional wrestling promotion in North America. The original XFL was co-owned by both WWE and NBC (which broadcast the games along with UPN and The National Network — now known as Paramount Network) and included tie-ins, gimmicks, and inter-promotional campaigns between the network, the league, and WWE. But the 2020 XFL will have no ties to WWE whatsoever and will operate as a stand-alone football league. Alpha Entertainment is independent of WWE.
For this XFL, McMahon tapped football legend Oliver Luck (Andrew Luck's father) to be the XFL commissioner. Luck has worked as a head coach, athletic director, general manager, and administrator at both the pro and college levels since retiring from his playing career in 1986. McMahon has given most, if not all, of the football operations to Luck. He oversaw the XFL draft in October and played a significant role in hiring the league's head coaches and other team staffers.
In the previous incarnation of the XFL, McMahon was hands-on with everything from the operations, to even the football broadcasts themselves. This time around, McMahon will focus on the business side with Luck on board as commissioner.
How many teams are in the XFL?
Like the first incarnation of the XFL, this version will have eight teams spread across two conferences. The Eastern Conference will be led by the DC Defenders, New York Guardians, St. Louis BattleHawks, and Tampa Bay Vipers. And in the Western Conference, the league has the Dallas Renegades, Houston Roughnecks, Los Angeles Wildcats, and Seattle Dragons.
This is the second time that the league has set up shop in both New York (Hitmen) and Los Angeles (Xtreme, 2001 champions) and the second time they've fielded a Florida team (Orlando Rage), but this will be their first go-round in the football-rich state of Texas, as well as Seattle and Washington, DC. The XFL also will give St. Louis its first football team since the NFL's Rams returned to Los Angeles in 2016. Each team will have a 52-man active roster during the regular season, but only 46 will be allowed to dress on game day. The league's uniforms were revealed on Dec. 3.
They’re here. pic.twitter.com/fvQ6LoTw2H— XFL (@xfl2020) December 4, 2019
How does the league schedule its games?
The XFL will play a 10-week regular season from Feb. 8 to April 12. The league will play doubleheaders on Saturdays and Sundays — except for two Thursday night games in Weeks 9 and 10 — with the games largely airing in the mid-afternoon and early evening. Each team will play their three conference rivals twice in a home-and-home format along with four games against the opposite conference — two home games and two away games.
Once the regular season concludes, the XFL will have a two-week playoff. The top two teams from each conference will meet in conference championship games to be played on April 18 (Eastern) and 19 (Western). The conference champions will play for the 2020 XFL Championship on April 26. In all, there will be 12 weeks of football that will be played straight through with no bye weeks.
How can I watch XFL games?
The league will air its games on cable, satellite, streaming, and network television through ESPN, ESPN2, FS1, FS2, FOX, and ABC. This also means that the games will be available on the Fox Sports GO and ESPN+ apps.
Are there any rule changes?
One thing that made the original XFL stand out was the fact that they didn't have a coin toss to decide who gets the ball. Instead, they had one player from each team race to midfield where the ball was sitting on a kicking tee. And whichever player got to the ball first will get the opening kickoff for his team. While this will not be a part of the 2020 relaunch, there are plenty of new rules.
Kickoffs will be different once again. The kicker will once again kick off from his own 35-yard line, but the rest of the kicking unit will line up at the opposite 35. The receiving team will have 10 players lined up on their own 30, and no players other than the kicker and designated kick returner are allowed to move until the return team touches the ball or the ball is not touched for three seconds.
The league is hoping to reduce, if not eliminate, touchbacks. In the event that there is a touchback, the offense will start at their own 35-yard line. Punting will also be different, and fans won't be able to see returners blown up, as in the league's original form. Instead, to encourage big returns and teams to go for it on fourth down, all players on the punting team will not be able to release from the line of scrimmage until the ball is punted. Additionally, punts that go out of bounds or into the end zone will be spotted at the 35-yard line or where they go out of bounds, whichever is more advantageous to the return team.
The XFL will use a continuous game clock that will only stop on timeouts, change of possession, and during the final two minutes of the second and fourth quarters. This rule is similar to what the Arena Football League had. The play clock will be 25 seconds, which will be among the shorter play clocks at any level of pro football. The league has also talked about the possibility of eliminating halftime. The original XFL did away with PATs.
In 2001, teams instead would get one point if they ran the PAT into the end zone and two points for a passing score. This time around, a team will earn one point if they convert the attempt from the two-yard line, two points from the five-yard line, and three points from 10 yards out. Overtime will also be something to watch. Similar to hockey, overtime would be a five-round "shootout" where each team will have five chances to score from the five-yard line. Each touchdown scored will be worth a point.
The league will also consider passes behind the line of scrimmage as lateral passes, meaning that there could be more than one forward pass on a single play. There will also be two additional officials on top of what we already see. There will be a ball judge whose sole responsibility will be to spot the ball after each play. And just like the AAF, the XFL will also employ the sky judge.
How will players be compensated?
Each player will get a base salary and health insurance, and they will be eligible for bonuses. But the pay scales will differ between quarterbacks and everyone else. Quarterbacks will receive a base salary of $125,000 and can reportedly make more than the NFL rookie minimum of $495,000. However, the rest of the players will earn $27,000 before bonuses.
Players who dress for the 46-man gameday roster will receive a bonus of $1,600 per game, and every player will earn an extra $2,200 for each game that their team wins. That means that if a player starts all 10 games and wins five, he would make $55,000. There will also be bonuses for the teams that make the playoffs in April. Each head coach will earn a $500,000 salary.
Who are the XFL head coaches?
The head coaches for the eight teams are well known in the game and have centuries of combined experience. They've all spent time on the sidelines in either the NFL, college level, or other pro leagues such as NFL Europe, the CFL, and the USFL.
In the Eastern Conference, former New York Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride will return to the Big Apple to coach. NFL and college offensive coordinator and quarterbacks guru Pep Hamilton will take over in DC. Meanwhile, Former Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman will lead the Vipers, and longtime Cincinnati Bengals assistant Jonathan Hayes will get his first head coaching job in St. Louis.
The Western Conference also will be filled with notable names, headlined by Bob Stoops. The ex-Sooners coach was the first coach brought in and will lead the flagship Dallas Renegades franchise. Across the state will be college legend June Jones in Houston, while longtime Green Bay Packers assistant Winston Moss will oversee the Wildcats. Finally, former Washington Redskins head coach Jim Zorn will head the Seattle Dragons.
Who are some notable players to watch for?
The XFL has drafted players who were stars at the collegiate level and have varying ranks of pro experience between the NFL, AAF, CFL, and the Arena Football League. Before the draft, the league assigned eight recognizable quarterbacks to each team, all of whom are all projected to be the starters for their respective franchises. There were also quite a few notable running backs that were selected as well. There are many players who will be familiar to fans across the country.
You can find a breakdown of each team's roster by position group below:
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.