The XFL’s Legacy May Outlive Its Existence


The XFL is very similar to the ABA, trying new innovations for bigger leagues to use. (Courtesy of Flickr)

Dylan Balsamo, Assistant Sports Editor

If you have been an active sports fan over the past month or so, you, like most of us, have probably been fascinated, entertained and perhaps even perplexed by the the XFL, the brand new football league taking place in the offseason of the NFL. While the NFL stands for the National Football League, the “X” in XFL does not actually officially stand for anything. The XFL is not only flashy, but it is also uniquely its own league. It is not just any old copy of the NFL. The XFL was founded by WWE mastermind Vince McMahon as a viable alternative to the United States’ most popular entertainment entity. Some of the rules are different; the officials allow for elaborate player celebration and there have been alcohol celebrations after almost every win across the league so far. It’s all just a barrel of monkeys.

But we should all be completely honest with ourselves. There is no way this league is going to last.

We are in a weird void in the sports year where not much is happening. Still, conference tournaments are about to get going in college basketball, and March Madness will directly proceed. The National Basketball Association (NBA) will soon begin what will likely be a very exciting year of playoffs. The National Hockey League’s (NHL) Stanley Cup Playoffs will get going as well. Not to mention that Spring Training will soon be over, and summer’s sweetest love — baseball season — is nearly upon us. With all of this going on, the XFL, even in its exciting rookie season, will likely be striving to put up the same viewing numbers as the Kentucky Derby.

The XFL is not the first time a sports league has come into existence in order to compete with its sport’s top tier. In fact, this isn’t even the first time that Vince McMahon has tried to compete in football with a league called the XFL. As you would probably imagine, most of these leagues fail in their presumed initiative of taking over one of the sports leagues as America’s top provider of that sport. But in another sense, some of these leagues find success in their influence, and their legacies live far beyond the day they cease operations.

The way most startup competitor leagues make their name is by having the top league buy them out or merge with them. If those smaller leagues are lucky, some traces of their league will remain.

There are plenty of examples of these leagues throughout the history of modern American sport: quite a few of the NFL teams that we know, namely the New York Jets and the New England Patriots, came from the AFL (American Football League). It merged with the NFL after competing against each other in the first three incarnations of what is now known as the Super Bowl. The ABA (American Basketball Association) is probably the most influential of these leagues rule-wise, as it introduced the sports world to the 30-second shot clock, the three-point shot and the beloved Slam Dunk Contest. The NHL had a merger with the WHA (World Hockey Association) in 1979, and that league gave the NHL its most successful team of the late ‘80’s: the Edmonton Oilers. MLB’s American League was originally a league that competed with the National League, and the two did not become a singular legal entity under the name Major League Baseball until commissioner Bud Selig made it so in 2000.

Now, while the XFL is not going to last awfully long, it is, undoubtedly to anyone who has seen it, a very entertaining league to watch and follow, and it is legitimate football. While it has significant rule differences from the NFL, such as the continuous running clock, the double forward pass and the entirely new and wacky extra point options, the XFL is no gimmick of a sports league. The game is real. Not since the ABA has an upstart competing sports league had this many rule changes and this much flash while still holding true to the basis of the sport. A great musician can make a song their own while keeping the original spirit of the song intact, and that is exactly what the XFL has done with football.

Eventually, the NFL is going to approach the XFL in a way that leagues just like it have been approached before. Hopefully, whenever it is that they do, the NFL sees that the XFL’s unique brand of rules and approach to the game of football are not just entertaining enough to grab people’s attention, but also a viable way to move the game of football forward.