From the Bleachers: XFL is Promising, But Not Enough to Give Up the Big League Chew

by Baily Deeter | 2/24/20 2:05am

The NFL season has unfortunately come to a close, which has left me with just about nothing to talk about during the last few weeks. I tend to think I’m less fun in the offseason, whereas most would probably just say that I’m less annoying. Nonetheless, with no college or NFL games to look forward to until September, I, along with many other middle-aged dads, find myself in desperate need of a new hobby. 

I could try to find a new TV show, but I know I’ll eventually go back to my habit of watching old Family Guy episodes, so there isn’t much of a point. I could take up running, but then my mom would get excited and drag me along on some of her six-mile runs, which is a deal-breaker for me. I could begin journaling, but my handwriting is so poor that I wouldn’t even be able to read what I wrote. 

So after the Super Bowl, I decided that I only had one option: becoming a diehard XFL fan. For those who are unfamiliar, the XFL is a new professional football league owned by wrestling promoter Vince McMahon. It aims to entertain bored football fans like myself during the long offseason, and so far, it’s off to a decent start. According to Yahoo Finance, the debut game on ABC had 3.3 million viewers, which was more than the Duke-North Carolina basketball game the previous day. 

The concept of the XFL is intriguing, although it’s not the first time that someone tried to come up with an offseason football league. So far, the results haven’t been promising. In fact, McMahon tried this same idea in 2001, and the original XFL garnered a whopping 15 million viewers in its debut. But the league burned out by the end of the year, inflicting a $35 million dent in McMahon’s bank account. 

Last year, the Alliance of American Football attempted the same strategy, and it started on a positive note with 2.9 million viewers for its debut. But the league couldn’t even finish its first season, disbanding with a couple weeks left. Now, the XFL does appear much more promising than the AAF. It had more viewers in its debut and has also seen viewership rise throughout games, indicating a better quality of product.  

However, as much as I want to fully invest myself in an offseason football league as an excuse to stay off the treadmill, I simply haven’t gotten myself to buy in as much as I’d like to. As much as I want to wanted to win more money off my poor brother (who, per column policy, will be roasted at least once per article) this week by taking my beloved Houston Roughnecks against the spread, I just can’t get myself excited for the league. 

For starters, there’s no chance that any NFL players would ever spend their offseason risking injury in an inferior league, so the quality of competition is lower. The top 1,696 football players are on NFL rosters, and an additional 320 find themselves on NFL practice squads, so pickings are rather slim for the XFL. If I had walked on to the Dartmouth football team, put on 75 pounds of muscle and cut a second off my 40 time, I might have had a shot at a tryout. But instead, my keyboard called, and I answered. Life goes on.  

While I appreciate the reminder that the likes of Sammie Coates and Cardale Jones are still alive, there aren’t many big names that attract your average viewer to the league. I’ve never heard of most XFL players — and imagine most fans are in the same boat — which makes it difficult to resonate with the league. Unless Tom Brady decides he’s had enough of the Patriots and wants to take his talents to the St. Louis Battlehawks, the league is going to have to survive with subpar talent. 

The biggest problem in that department is at the quarterback position. Plenty of NFL teams lack a serviceable starting quarterback, so it’s easy to see how the XFL is left without sufficient talent at the position. Watching Matt McGloin stumble with the Oakland Raiders was a painful experience for NFL fans, and watching him stumble with the New York Guardians is equally cringe-worthy. In last week’s game, he completed eight of his 19 passes for 44 yards and two interceptions. While my 0.2 touchdown-to-interception ratio on my JV football team wasn’t exactly ideal, I don’t think I could’ve done much worse than the Penn State burnout. 

Additionally, part of the NFL’s glory is the buildup of the entire offseason, making the regular season that much more rewarding after seven months of mowing the lawn and doing Sudoku puzzles. If Christmas were every day, it would never feel like Christmas. Sometimes watching basketball or baseball is a nice change of pace, especially when March Madness takes center stage in, well, March.  

It’s true that XFL viewership numbers only dropped 30 percent from Week 1 to Week 2. However, I imagine those numbers will steadily decline as the season continues. Let’s not forget that husbands around the country can no longer use football as an excuse to get out of chores and Little League baseball games. Their wives may let them save the attic cleaning for the spring to watch Patrick Mahomes, but very few would let their husband skip Johnny’s fifth-grade Spelling Bee to watch Landry Jones. 

While I don’t foresee success for the XFL, I do admire its attempt. It gave me something to write about in this week’s column and has provided me with a good excuse to procrastinate on weekends, which is more than any other league has done for me. Unfortunately for McMahon and company, diehard NFL fans need to step away from America’s Game and delve into new endeavors; football season has run its course. It’s time for middle-aged dads to trade in Red Zone and Bud Light for Big League Chew and Johnny’s T-Ball quarterfinals.