The XFL is coming back.
And it’s coming to Seattle this time.
Seattle is one of eight franchises in the new professional football league, it was announced Wednesday morning, with games to be played starting Feb. 8, 2020, the week after the Super Bowl.
“Seattle, I think is one of the all-time great sports markets in this country,” XFL commissioner and CEO Oliver Luck said. “And quite honestly, it doesn’t get enough respect for it. We’ve got an opportunity in my mind, to launch in one of the great sports cities in the U.S. It’s a city that’s very passionate about its sports, and it’s football, and it made it a really simple decision to go to Seattle.”
Also getting franchises are Los Angeles, Dallas, St. Louis, Houston, New York, Washington, D.C. and Tampa, Florida.
The XFL lasted one season – 2001 – in its first incarnation, a joint venture between Vince McMahon’s WWE and NBC. This time, McMahon is solely funding the venture, under the arm of Alpha Entertainment, which he reportedly started from the sale of WWE stock worth about $100 million.
There will be a 10-game regular season, followed by league semifinals and the championship. Seattle will play its games at CenturyLink Field and, like the other seven teams, will be owned by the league. Coaches and quarterbacks are expected to be signed in the first quarter of 2019. Interviews for front-office staff have already begun.
The first big move for McMahon was to hire Luck, a former West Virginia quarterback (and the father of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck), six months ago.
Luck has been a sports executive and administrator for years, including serving as athletic director at West Virginia from 2010-14 and as president and general manager of the Houston Dynamo of MLS from 2005-10. The past four years, Luck has been the NCAA’s executive vice president for regulatory affairs.
The chance to be part of a new league enticed Luck to join the XFL, but it was more than that.
“One factor was someone like Vince, who is a very well-respected entrepreneur and one of the great American success stories in what he has done with WWE and building that organization,” Luck said. “I was captivated by his passion for the new league, and quite honestly by the fact they had done this in 2001. Obviously, it was not the finest hour for professional football, but he’s learned some lessons from that. You often learn more from failure than success.”
The league was rushed into existence in 2001, and teams were not properly prepared when the season began. The league was best known for WWE celebrities being used as announcers, its scantily clad cheerleaders and a rougher brand of football with fewer rules. For example, instead of an opening toss, two players would scramble after a football placed at midfield. One player suffered a season-ending injury during a scramble.
“Virtually everything will be different,” Luck said. “We’re taking the calendar year, 2019, to get everything set up so we are really prepared to come out of the chute so we will be ready in week one in 2020 of playing good, crisp, high-quality football. That is super important, and that will be the biggest difference. We are using that time to reimagine the game.”
Luck said there “will be some twists that I think people will like, that are not gimmicky, but are good for the game.” Among the 10 or so being considered are a shorter play clock and finding a way to have more kickoff returns (there are fewer in the NFL these days for safety reasons).
Player health and safety will be more of an emphasis than it was in 2001, and the XFL will look more like traditional football.
“It’s a different world, in terms of our knowledge on health and safety, and it’s not just brain trauma,” Luck said.
Another new league, the eight-team Alliance of American Football, begins in 2019, but Luck doesn’t seem too concerned by the competition.
“We believe in our business plan and model that we have, and the capitalization that Vince is providing us,” Luck said. “So quite honestly, we haven’t spent much time worrying about any other league.”
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