NFL rules prohibit players from entering the draft until their high school class is 3 years removed from graduation, but as of 2020 football players who wish to turn pro sooner will have a viable option besides the Canadian Football League; the XFL. Commissioner Oliver Luck has said his league won’t recruit kids on college campuses, “but there are categories of college players that may be of interest to us including those who have graduated early, but are not yet ready to declare for the NFL draft or guys no longer academically eligible. Players who want to transfer but decide they don’t want to sit out a year, may also be a fit.” If Clemson WR Justyn Ross has a pulse on the average college football player, the league may not need to recruit to land underclassmen destined for NFL careers; Ross said the chance to play football for money – beyond the “cost of attendance” – is going to be “hard for an 18 or 19-year-old to turn down.” Ross personally has no plans to leave Death Valley after his sophomore season – his mom wants him to earn his degree.
Howie Long-Short: Ross reasons that players would consider the XFL over college football because “something could happen. You can get hurt. You have to take care of yourself because it can be over just like that.” He’s not wrong, but players with surefire NFL futures must consider the risk-reward. While they might be able to earn a respectable annual salary (ceiling is +/- $250K) for a season or three, it’s a pittance compared to what top NFL draft picks sign for. Even with a national TV deal (keep reading), the XFL can’t provide the platform that big-time college football can and as Zion Williamson showed this past season at Duke, success on a national stage could be worth upwards of 9 figures in endorsements and improved draft stock.
Back in June ‘18, the NBA introduced a viable alternative to NCAA basketball for elite prospects not yet eligible for the draft, but to date, not a single 5-star prospect has signed a G-League contract (Bazley ended up signing with New Balance). Luck acknowledges “that it hasn’t happened yet because most young men love the idea of playing college hoops”, so he’s certainly not under the impression that he’s building this league around “one and done” talent. Instead, the plan is to focus on the quality of play and fan access.
Luck envisions an “up-tempo, fast-paced game with fewer stoppages” and thinks one way to achieve that is to eliminate the huddle. “We’re considering outfitting the entire team – not just the quarterback – with earpieces. I always thought it was the height of inefficiency for the coach to use the communication system to tell the quarterback what the play was going to be and then have it take 5 or 6 seconds for the quarterback to tell everybody else.” To be clear, up-temp doesn’t mean no defense. Despite his experience in the Big-12, Luck says he’s “not a fan of the 65-64 games. You want it to be hard to make a 3rd and 7 in the 4th quarter when the game is on the line. Games shouldn’t be determined by who has the ball last.”
Providing fans access to content they haven’t been exposed to prior is where Luck believes he can bring innovation to the broadcast. “We’re looking at giving fans the ability to listen in on the communication between the coaches in the booth and players on the field; and there may be an opportunity to bring fans into the locker room for the coach’s pre-game speech without impacting the integrity of the game.”
Speaking of the game broadcast, Luck told me the league would be “announcing a very powerful TV deal with a broadcaster whose alphabet letters you will recognize – as well as one with a fully distributed cable broadcaster.” The commissioner acknowledged that streaming is the future, but said “for a young league like ours, the exposure we can get from over-the-air television – as well as cable – is the most important thing.”
Fan Marino: I’ve been critical of the XFL for making a big deal about coaching hires – no one attends a football game to watch the coach. That’s not to say Bob Stoops, Jim Zorn, Marc Trestman and Pep Hamilton aren’t great hires, I’ve simply argued that spending big money on coaches was missing the point. Luck disagreed saying, “quality coaches give us credibility and help us to recruit better players” and relatively speaking the league really isn’t paying coaches all that much; “we’re paying our head coaches $500,000. While that’s certainly a nice salary, it’s modest compared to what NFL and even the smaller FBS schools are paying.”
The XFL isn’t the only league considering going after players not yet draft eligible. Don Yee’s Pacific Pro League has said they’d like Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence to serve as their answer to the AFL’s Joe Namath.
Editor Note: You can find Part 1 of our interview with Oliver Luck, here.
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