In February 2017, ESPN premiered a 30 for 30 titled “This was the XFL,” chronicling the quick rise and drastic fall of the alternative football league that was spearheaded by WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon and former NBC executive Dick Ebersol.
As the 90-minute program came to an end, McMahon and Ebersol are seen talking about the league’s successes, its failures and what could have been.
“Do you ever have any thoughts about trying again?” Ebersol asked.
“I’m sure we could find a way,” McMahon responded after a couple of minutes of back-and-forth conversation to close out the film.
Almost a year since the documentary aired and 17 years after the XFL saw its short-lived existence come to an end, the league is getting a second chance.
McMahon announced Thursday that the XFL will return. The revamped league is anticipating a 2020 on-field debut.
His message on a live-streamed teleconference while revealing the news was simple.
“We’re going to give the game of football back to the fans,” McMahon, 72, said.
To McMahon, that means quicker games (a goal of two hours from start to finish), no focus on social or political issues (although players would need to stand for the national anthem) and improved quality of play.
The format of the league will be similar to the first iteration: eight teams, 40-player rosters, a 10-game regular season and a four-team playoff.
He also stressed that the focal point of the league is football and nothing else. Moreover, McMahon stressed the importance of off-the-field performance as well as on-field talent, eliminating players such as Johnny Manziel from consideration.
"You want someone who does not have any criminality associated with him,” he said. “... Even if you have a DUI you will not play in the XFL.
"If Tim Tebow wants to play, he can very well play."
McMahon said city considerations for the eight teams are still “a ways away,” but hinted at some of the criteria.
"You want to play where football is played,” he said before adding "The intent is to play where a lot of the other NFL teams play."
And while Miami was not a part of the original eight-team league — teams were based in Orlando; Chicago; East Rutherford, New Jersey; Birmingham, Alabama; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Memphis; and Las Vegas for its sole season in 2001 — Miami does have a history that involves experience with leagues that would rival the NFL and the hometown Dolphins.
In 1974, the Miami Dolphins were impacted by the creation of the World Football League, a 13-team league that lasted two seasons. Two months after the Dolphins won their second consecutive Super Bowl, three players — fullback Larry Csonka, wide receiver Paul Warfield and running back Jim Kiick — made the announcement that they signed a package deal with the WFL’s Toronto Northmen for a combined $3 million over three years. All three players returned to the NFL after the World Football League dissipated.
And in 1983, following the University of Miami’s first national championship, Howard Schnellenberger initially was to be the head coach and general manager of a United States Football League team based in Miami called The Spirit of Miami. However, one of the franchise’s owners called off the deal when the USFL announced it was going to shift to a fall schedule, which would put the league in direct competition with the NFL. The team never played a game in South Florida.
In December, McMahon sold about $100 million worth of WWE stock to fund a separate company called Alpha Entertainment that, according to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, was “established to explore investment opportunities across the sports and entertainment landscapes, including professional football.” It was also reported that Alpha filed for five trademarks related to the XFL.
The original rendition of the XFL came to light in 1999 as a joint venture between NBC and the World Wrestling Federation (now WWE). The eight-team league flamed out after a lone three-month spring season of on-field action in 2001 because of low television ratings following the opening weekend, and a reported loss of about $35 million.
McMahon said there will be “no crossover whatsover” between the new XFL and WWE.
While the original version of the league was fundamentally similar to the NFL, there were some noticeable differences on and off the field, including a penchant for having less rules and more excitement. For example, instead of an opening coin toss, teams had a designated player scramble for a football 20 yards away to determine who would open the ensuing game on offense. There were also no fair catches on punt returns or extra points after touchdowns.
Players also had the opportunity to express themselves with nicknames on the backs of their jerseys, most notably seen with Rod Smart’s “He Hate Me.”
The announcement comes at a time when the NFL — and football in general — is facing scrutiny because of concerns regarding CTE and other health risks players face. The NFL specifically has seen TV ratings drop this season for various reasons, including player protests during the national anthem, verbal attacks from President Trump, and the league’s stances on concussions and domestic violence, among others.
But McMahon said with due time, the XFL has a chance to work this time around.
“We have two years to really get it right," he said.