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How the coronavirus killed the XFL season

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The Xtreme Football League announced April 10 that it had suspended operations and laid off all of its workers due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This spelled out the end of the spring football season.

The XFL survived for just one month. The first game of the season was Feb. 8 and the final game was March 8. There’s also the months before it that included the preseason, but as far as televised football action, we fans only got one month.

I’m a huge fan of football, so getting another season of it right after the end of the NFL, I was pumped for the XFL. I immediately started cheering for the DC Defenders, as I was born in Washington, D.C.

I remembered watching them play the inaugural game of the season against the Seattle Dragons on ABC. I was impressed with the play of DC quarterback Cardale Jones as he threw for 235 yards and two touchdowns. My favorite was the 39-yarder to tight end Khari Lee.

The DC Defenders finished the season 3-2 overall after winning their final game of the season against the St. Louis Battlehawks 15-6.

The XFL featured seven other teams, including the Seattle Dragons, St. Louis Battlehawks, LA Wildcats, Houston Roughnecks, Tampa Bay Vipers, New York Guardians and the Dallas Renegades.

The XFL MVP race was coming down between two quarterbacks: P.J. Walker of the undefeated Houston Roughnecks and Josh Johnson of the LA Wildcats.

There was also Roughneck wide receiver Cam Phillips, who hauled in 31 receptions for 455 yards and an astounding nine touchdowns in just five games.

His teammate, running back James Butler, carried the ball 46 times for 221 yards and four touchdowns. Tampa Bay’s DeVeon Smith led the league in rushing attempts (90) and yards (365) but didn’t score any touchdowns.

All of them were having tremendous seasons until the announcement came that the XFL was shutting down the rest of its season.

According to its official statement, XFL is committed to playing a full season in 2021 and future years.

Unless XFL made enough money through five games to buy another season, I just don’t see that happening. Football leagues outside of the NFL struggle to build a fan base. The Arena Football League was founded in 1987 and was the third longest running football league behind the Candian Football League.

However, the AFL declared bankruptcy twice, once in 2009 and again last November. I don’t see them returning for a third time unless it’s further down the road where people can build up enough savings to kickstart the league again.

Then there was the United States Football League that ran from 1983-85. It played during the spring and summer.

That league produced great NFL athletes such as Steve Young, Jim Kelly, Anthony Carter, Herschel Walker, Reggie White and Doug Williams.

However, then-New Jersey Generals majority owner Donald Trump and a handful of other owners forced a merger with the NFL. They wanted to compete with one of the biggest sports organizations in the world.

As part of this strategy, the USFL filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL in 1986, and a jury ruled that the NFL had violated anti-monopoly laws.

However, in a victory in name only, the USFL was awarded a judgment of just $1, which under antitrust laws, was tripled to $3. This court decision effectively ended the USFL’s existence. The league never played its planned 1986 season, and by the time it folded, it had lost over $163 million.

Then in 2001, the XFL hit the scene for the first time. It only played one season and filed for bankruptcy in April of that year.

However, back then, the XFL did pioneer several new aspects to the game that the NFL adopted, such as aerial skycams and on-player microphones.

This year’s XFL also added some new, fun aspects to the game of football I would like to see implemented in the NFL. For example, I love how the XFL does its kickoffs.

The kicker will kick the ball from his own 30-yard line, but every blocker will be lined up on the opposing team’s 35-yard line. The return team blockers will be lined up at their own 30, just five yards away. Only the kicker and receiver can move before the ball is caught.

That way, it’s more safe and we get to see an exciting kickoff return every time.

There was also the point-after touchdown rules. Teams had an option to run a play to score either 1, 2 or 3 extra points, creating the possibility for a 9-point touchdown.

So the XFL had some entertainment value that might help bring it back in 2021. That’s what the Alliance of American Football League thought last year, where it didn’t even play a full season.

I want the XFL to come back. I really do. But do I think it will? Probably not. It didn’t make enough money and fans didn’t get to see their investment all the way through due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

History shows that football leagues not named the NFL or CFL have a bad time staying alive. They just don’t have the firepower to compete with the juggernauts of the sports industry.

I hope I get to see my DC Defenders come back for Round 2. I’ll be cheering for them as I optimistically await their return, along with the rest of the XFL.

What did you think of the XFL? Do you think it will really come back in 2021? Let me know.


Marty Simpkins is the sports editor of The Wake Weekly. He can be reached at 919-424-1779 or marty@wakeweekly.com.

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