Interest in the defunct XFL is quite high,. There are dozens of motivated and qualified parties looking to purchase the league in bankruptcy proceedings with an eye to relaunching it as soon as February, according to The Athletic. Which begs one obvious question – why not the NFL?
Who could possibly benefit more from the remnants of the XFL than the NFL? Who could better cultivate that asset, and, as is their want, turn it into a potential money-making enterprise every spring? There is not another entity on the planet that could benefit more from resurrecting the XFL construct and taking it over; it could be a boon to the NFL on a multitude of levels, it could solve their long-running issues of referee-development, coach-development, player-development and it could do it at a time when the league's diversity crisis is at an all-time high.
On the heels of the NFL's misguided attempt to incentivize the Rooney Rule via the draft -- the proposal that was tabled, unlikely to be heard from again -- and the league's more well-received move to expand the Rooney Rule to coordinator and assistant GM and team president positions, there is no better time for the league to invest in its human resources than right now. And they can do it for pennies on the dollar with a league that was at least showing signs of being viable before the Covid pandemic hastened its demise.
It makes so much sense. It's sitting right there in a Delaware court. I wish I could say this was my idea, although it's not. A well-respected agent much smarter than myself suggested it to me this week as a means for the NFL to make a robust statement about addressing the lack of non-white decision-makers in the league, while also serving as a nationally-broadcasted petri dish to experiment with rule changes and officiating proposals and technological advances (it's beyond time for micro-chips or something in the balls and on the field that make spotting the ball more science and less guesswork).
The need for a spring developmental league has been massive, and it's a pet peeve of mine that I have been writing about for years in this space and others. The support for it runs deep among owners and within the NFL's football operations department, with studies for various models going in for years. And, if anything, the confluence of Covid and the shrinking population of African American head coaches and GMs has shown us that it is needed more now than ever. Getting the owners to invest in their own people has been a difficult chore, and with the economy slowed, it might be a non-starter for them now. But it shouldn't be.
As the agent put it to me when explaining the idea, these owners seem to feel like certain candidates need a further qualification to get their opportunity. The current path doesn't seem to be enough. However, if the NFL ran the XFL as a spring developmental league and employed only African American head coaches and GMs, the vetting would be done on field. The results would speak for themselves. Whatever lingering excuses there might be to try to explain the sad reversal in the numbers of black coaches and GMs would be expunged.
If it's not enough in 2020 for Andy Reid, arguably one of the greatest offensive minds in the history of the game, to put his arm around Eric Bieniemy and vouch for his coordinator's abilities with owners around the league and push for him to get hired in the same way that it seems to work quite quickly and easily for Doug Pederson and Matt Nagy, then perhaps there needs to be another path available for Bieniemy and others. Perhaps getting a leave from OTAs with the Chiefs in order to run an XFL team might make sense.
The composition of the rest of the staff, under this proposal, would be filled in any fashion the GMs desired; but having people of color in the head coach and GM positions would be paramount. Couple this with an addendum to The Rooney Rule that a team gets a supplemental first-round pick for hiring an African American team president or selling 10-percent or more of a franchise to a person of color, and I would suggest we'd start to see this pendulum swing in the right direction.
This is hardly about addressing the NFL's diversity issues alone. The old World League and NFL Europe were tremendous avenues of finding meaningful reps for young quarterbacks, kickers and offensive linemen – positions of need, and acute need in some instances, around the league to this day. A new XFL would solve that need and would create a pipeline of African American coaches developing QBs in that league at a time when precious few of those coaches are working directly with that all-important position in the NFL.
Anyone who watches even a few NFL games a year would attest to the fact that officiating needs a boost. Having younger crews work XFL practices and games could not hurt; it would also be the perfect place to play around with Eye In The Sky possibilities and the NFL is already voting this week on incorporating the onside-kick changes (getting a fourth-and-15 play instead twice a game) that were first implemented by the AAF and XFL (RIP). A league sometimes called the No Fun League could get its yayas out in the XFL and be loose and carefree.
Owners, I've been told for years, are ultimately unmotivated to spend for player development because the NCAA does it for them for free. It's the perfect set up – the SEC is essentially AAA football and the Big 10 is like AA and so on. No need to invest further and incur potential losses by doing it ourselves.
Of course, it's an inefficient model as players are routinely cut and cast aside without ever really getting a chance with training camps and the preseason getting shorter and shorter and nary time to develop on the fly in-season. Young players can go 10 months at a team between training camps without getting an opportunity to actually play football. Massive improvements are in order.
Sending practice squad players and the best young street free agents in the country to a six-team setting for 10-12 weeks each spring sounds like a no-brainer to me, now more than ever. If anything, this pandemic, along with the recent court rulings on NCAA player image and likeness regulations, has further exposed how tenuous the "student-athlete" model might be.
Sure, you can find another athletic director coming out every day talking about playing college football in full stadiums, or half full stadiums, come August, but no one knows for sure. Getting students to sign waivers or play games while the rest of the campus is largely learning via Zoom could be a thorny situation. And heaven forbid there are Coronavirus outbreaks among the clusters of players and coaches once these seasons do begin, there could be an even steeper price to pay in court or otherwise.
Consider the millions every year that the NBA, MLB and NHL spend on player development through all of their minor league affiliates (G League, etc), with professional set-ups across North America. And yet the NFL, the biggest league by far on this continent, has zilch. Even if a revises XFL had a $60M operating budget a year, and even if the games didn't make real money on TV (though I suspect they might), that's $2M per team; they are paying more to back-up offensive linemen they hope never get on the field.
Don't take my word for it. I spoke to former Super Bowl-winning head coach Mike Martz about a spring league earlier this week on my radio show, Inside Access on 105.7 The Fan in Baltimore. Martz coached the San Diego Fleet in the AAF and watched the XFL closely and agrees that the time is now for the NFL to get in the player-development game. Martz was adamant that an NFL spring league would be viable and successful and I'm inclined to believe him.
"Absolutely," he said. "Has to happen. It has to happen and it has to be more of a developmental league. The only way it's going to make it is if it's tied into, or in conjunction with, or sponsored in some part by the National Football League. In other words the practice squad players, you have to make them available, you know what I mean?
"The league is only going to profit from it. In the World League we had four starters in the Super Bowl after that '01 season who were from the World League. That's crazy. There are so many guys out there who don't get developed because the collective bargaining agreement negated all that offseason work at the facilities So these guys that we used to take out on the field for an hour or two or three times or four times a week to do footwork drills and ball drills and things to get their skills set up to match the veterans, they don't get that.
"So there are guys who come and go who don't get developed that may have been good enough, but you just don't have time or the capacity to develop it. So a league like that would be incredibly important. We had two guys in the NFL start off our offensive line from the AAF. So there's plenty of room for it.
"I think there's a need for it. I do think obviously college football is a natural free minor league for professional football, but nonetheless I think there's obviously a need for it. You put limitations on it – you have to be 21 or older and you can't be older than 25."
Hopefully, someone over on Park Avenue is listening.