By Sterling Pingree
The chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment, Vince McMahon, announced on Thursday that he is bringing back the XFL in 2020. Many remember the XFL as a failed spring football league that debuted in prime time on NBC and endured one season that seemed jinxed from the jump. There have been rumors of McMahon vindicating his biggest public failure since the league went under in 2001. (For more on the original XFL, check out Charlie Ebersol’s 30 for 30 documentary “This Was the XFL” and the podcast Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard and Conrad Thompson did an episode on the XFL on February 10, 2017.)
In the press conference, which streamed live on Twitter, McMahon announced that in this incarnation of the XFL, it would be straight forward football with none of the gimmicks or “attitude” of the original product. The original XFL tried changing too many rules which complicated the product and also in most cases made it much more dangerous. Does anybody remember the loose ball to determine who got the ball first instead of a coin flip? What about no fair catches? Can you imagine if a league started in 2018 and said they were eliminating the fair catch rule? You’d assume that they were also going back to leather helmets.
Most questions at the press conference revolved around talent and teams. In this, part I of the XFL, I will map out what teams make the most sense for the new league. In the upcoming part II, I will take a look at what players would give the XFL the most cache amongst fans.
The issue that most upstart leagues face is that they expand too quickly. One of the most successful upstarts was the USFL, who had two solid seasons playing spring football in the mid-80’s but expansion in year three watered down the product that was already a little watered down to begin with and eventually with the help of New Jersey Generals owner Donald J. Trump, submerged the league for good. Running recreational sports, intramurals and teaching the subject, I have determined that the perfect number of teams for a tournament or league is eight. With eight teams you can have a solid tournament because it’s the perfect bracket format. Look at the NCAA basketball tournament, which still even with play in games essentially starts with 64 teams, then 32, 16, 8, 4 and then 2. A 32 team XFL would fail before it started, 16 teams is a dream after 10-successful years and even them I think is too ambitious, but 8 teams is enough to make the product legitimate and give different match ups each week without too much repetition.
An eight team league, split into two divisions, the East and the West would easily give you a 10-game season if you had each team play each team in their division at home and on the road and then play each team in the other division once, two home and two road. The top 4 teams make the playoffs and then the championship would be played the following week. I wonder if they’ll still call the championship the Million Dollar Game. Not the worst name I’ve ever heard, after all everybody’s got a price.
Vince McMahon said that they would be interested in any city to put a team in and that they weren’t sure where the teams would be located. Here is what I would propose.
San Diego Free Birds. They just lost the Chargers, the fans want football and the stadium is already there. They get the name Free Birds from the trio tag team led by Michael P.S. Hayes. (Doot Doot Doot.)
Oakland Demolition. Like San Diego, Oakland will have lost the Raiders by 2020 and makes too much sense to put a franchise in the bay area. The Demolition name is from the face painted tag team from the 1980’s, but also is what should be done to the Oakland Coliseum.
Portland Pipers. Fun fact, the Pittsburgh Pipers won the 1967-68 ABA title and then moved to Minnesota for a year only to return to Pittsburgh after one season and were renamed the Condors. Portland is a one team city with the Trailblazers and why not put a football team there. The name Piper is in honor of wrestling great Rowdy Roddy Piper who was a legend in Portland and lived there most of his life.
Oklahoma City Slobberknockers. Putting a team in Texas is too cliché and where would you put it? Dallas? Houston? San Antonio? Let’s give almost equally football mad Oklahoma a team. We’ll put it in Oklahoma City which doesn’t have an NFL team but does have an NBA franchise. The name ties it in with legendary announcer and Oklahoma native Jim Ross and faster than you can say “Bah Gawd” you have an XFL franchise and a complete Western division.
Brooklyn Brawlers. I have a novel idea, why don’t we put a New York football team, IN NEW YORK! The state has two teams in name, but zero in residence. Brooklyn is on the come up, Brooklyn is cool. The name is a natural after legendary enhancement talent (guy who didn’t get entrance music and got beat pillar to post every week) the Brooklyn Brawler.
Alabama Slammers. Why doesn’t Alabama have a pro team? The Crimson Tide have won 5 national championships in 9 years, let’s give them a sort of graduate program if you will. Think of how easy it would be for the Slammers to find talent? They could probably load their defense if they accidentally left the front gate unlocked. (This team was almost named the Alabama Dream as an ode to Dusty Rhodes and Conrad Thompson. Roll Tide.)
St. Louis Rhythm. The city just lost the Rams and would likely be the only team to play their home games in a dome which seems like a good idea. We get the name Rhythm because their hockey team is the Blues, get it? Rhythm and Blues was a short lived tag team featuring Greg “The Hammer” Valentine and The Honky Tonk Man. Probably the weakest name on the list, but ever new league has to have a bad non-pluralized name like: Jazz, Storm, Sting or Thunder.
Connecticut Corporation. The team will be based out of Hartford, but for the purpose of alliteration, we’ll go with Connecticut. We needed another team in the Northeast, and it was ostensibly between Hartford and Providence (shout out to Providence Sportscaster of the Year Nick Coit) and Hartford had the Whalers once upon a time, so they get the nod. Also, the WWE home office is in Stamford, so there is “no chance in hell” the nod wouldn’t go to Connecticut. Corporation is also a nod to McMahon after his evil faction from the 1990’s and people don’t trust corporations in general.
The two more glaring omissions geographically are Chicago and Philadelphia. Both already have NFL teams to compete with, however Philadelphia did well with the two-time USFL champion Philadelphia Stars in the 1980’s. I left these two locations open in case any of these franchises falter, you can move the team to a credible city. (I’m looking at you Alabama.)
This is the formation of the league and all that’s left is filling out the rosters. Be on the lookout this weekend as I scout out the top players the XFL has to have to make an impact in 2020.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter) is a professor of sports and event management at Husson University and also a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.