by Mohammad Samra / Staff Reporter
“For the love of football.”
The five words that make up the slogan of the revamped Xtreme Football League (XFL) can also describe the fan reaction to the first few weeks of games between the league’s eight teams.
Bone-crunching hits, players chugging beers and endless trash-talking have added to the XFL’s rapidly flourishing personality.
The re-established league acts as an opportunity for players to shine on a platform that could earn them a spot on a roster in the National Football League. Former NFL and current St. Louis BattleHawks punter Marquette King has played extremely well since the start of the 10-game-long season, and his elite punting has prompted speculation of a potential return to the big league.
Although the NFL has the drawing power that the XFL might never have, Vince McMahon’s league has many components that alter the game enough to draw ratings while experimenting with new rules while having very little to lose.
The NFL averaged 16.5 million viewers per game during their centennial season, according to data compiled by CNBC. Since more eyes are on the NFL, they are prone to more criticism and less likely to radically change the rulebook unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Although it’s too early to define exactly how many people have watched XFL games, the second week drew between 1.8 and 2.3 million viewers, according to NBCSports. The low expectations for the XFL, especially after their failed 2001 season, allow them to experiment with the game and figure out what works and what doesn’t.
Many of its innovations, such as an altered kickoff that discourages touchbacks by placing the ball at the 35-yard-line of the return team instead of at the 25-yard-line, is widely embraced by fans.
Meanwhile, mid-game interviews with players and coaches have been a negative component for some viewers.
While the NFL mostly tries to avoid drama, the XFL embraces chaos. Most of the Tom Brady-New England Patriots quarrel has been reported by sources close to the story. Meanwhile, New York Guardians quarterback Matt McGloin ripped apart his team’s gameplan during a 27-0 manhandling by the DC Defenders and was benched in the fourth quarter as a result.
The best part about the XFL so far is how transparent the league has been. Audiences get to see the process of a play going from coach to quarterback to the rest of the team and how sometimes it doesn’t go as planned.
There have also been adjustments made to the officiating process that have received a positive response as well. Referees wear a mic so that viewers can hear the discussions between refs regarding why a call was made. In the case of replay reviews, a side by side screen shows an official who analyzes the play in question and instructs the on-field referee to either uphold or overturn a call.
By allowing full access to the officiating process, questionable calls and terrible officiating rarely become lingering storylines. The NFL struggles heavily in terms of officiating, and while transparency alone won’t help the XFL even come close to competing with the NFL, it will certainly help keep the league afloat.
While the XFL extends the professional football season by about three months, the league aims to make the game as enjoyable as possible for both viewers and players.
“At the end of the day, sports is entertainment,” Marqutte King said in an interview with The Telegraph. “Yeah it’s a job. But, at the same time it’s a freakin’ game. It’s all about having fun.”