One of COVID-19’s latest victims is the XFL, which suspended operations and underwent a massive round of layoffs on April 10.
Three months ago, the XFL finally burst onto the scene with its fresh take on football and all the optimism in the world. Two months ago, many of us who watched realized this league had the potential to make football on the whole a better game, even if the league itself wouldn’t stick around forever.
One month ago, the XFL followed suit with every other major sports league in the world in hitting the pause button amidst COVID-19 concerns. There was hope then that it would come back at some point this year or, the league said, in 2021 if need be.
Less than one week ago, that dream died.
The XFL announced April 10 it was suspending all league operations and laying off pretty much everyone involved with the league. That idea of coming back for 2021 looks like it’s been canned, too, even though the XFL didn’t explicitly say it was walking that one back. I’ve seen no optimism on that front from people who were laid off that day and, honestly, I don’t see how a league that made a point to show us how much more stable its funding was than the Alliance of American Football’s could have any intention whatsoever of coming back after laying off so many people.
Could they give it another go next year? Knowing things went fairly well with a sustainable business model that doesn’t need to be re-established, it’s possible. But if we’ve learned anything from the novel coronavirus, it’s that anything could change at any time.
I hope it comes back eventually, but I’m preparing for the worst.
The virus has taken a toll on businesses all over the country. Small businesses in Plant City have had to close their doors because of it, and not all of them are guaranteed to reopen when we’re finally given the all-clear to stop practicing social distancing. No matter how young or old a small business is, it’s killing someone’s dream every time they’re forced to turn the lights off and lock the doors for what could be the last time. You and I definitely have friends here who have poured their hearts and souls into their work, only to have that taken away from them by something we weren’t prepared for — something we were told we wouldn’t have to prepare for by people who weren’t prepared to be wrong.
The XFL is by no means a small business in practice, but it is in theory as a smaller-scale alternative to a global corporate product. Was it perfect? No way. But it got a lot more right than it got wrong, and that’s what happens when you hire people who are truly passionate about something to build from the ground up. They were committed to avoiding all the things that made the original XFL such a flop, and I don’t think anyone can say they didn’t succeed.
The passion was out in plain sight every time I talked to anyone in the Tampa Bay Vipers organization, be it a player, a coach or someone off the field. Winning was important for them, obviously, but establishing the team and the league as being the real deal was just as important. That meant being organized in operations from the ground up. That meant getting out into the community and making it home rather than just the place for games and practices. I believe the Vipers were for real and that their presence could have been increasingly great for Plant City had it been able to continue. A lot of passionate people are now without jobs or certainty in their lives, and it’s a shame it happened so early in the existence of a truly promising league.
I believe it’s good mental health practice for everyone to take any bad situation and dig deep for positives, then give those positives a time to shine. What good things can we take from the XFL’s brief existence?
For starters, it did leave blueprints for the game to evolve. I wrote about this at length in a column we ran several months ago, but the XFL established a decent amount of rules that were surprisingly effective at either speeding the action up or giving us more of it. Of course, there were other rules that were not so good and ultimately helped ensure the league couldn’t keep its promise of having shorter games than the NFL. But the NFL and NCAA could both benefit from taking pages from the XFL’s book sooner than later.
On a local level, I think the Vipers were able to prove Plant City is more than capable of hosting professional sports teams in some capacity. The Plant City Stadium experiment worked, in my opinion, and I think we now know it’s possible for the city to get creative with the ways in which it can utilize the property beyond the annual Fourth of July celebration and the occasional baseball event.
The sports world is worse off for having lost the XFL so soon. Here’s hoping, at the very least, its spirit can live on and make our games better when we can play again.