Earlier this week the NFL and XFL announced plans to collaborate with each other on health, safety, and technology innovations. Essentially this collaboration will have the NFL using and monitoring the XFL to test out ideas for new in game rules and other ways to enhance the gameday experience from a player and consumer perspective.
This kind of cooperation has led many to believe that the XFL could be the official developmental league that many believe the NFL is desperately lacking compared to the three other major American sports.
However, XFL chairwoman/owner Dany Garcia told ESPN that said this deal is not the first step in becoming an NFL developmental league.
“That’s a no,” Garcia said. “We are a spring league. We will play at the highest level in the spring. There is not the anticipation of any player sharing that changes the dynamic. That’s not how we’re executing our vision.”
This a big mistake for the NFL and the XFL. Here’s some big reasons why.
It’s time to find new ways to develop players.
Right now there really isn’t any way to develop talent in this league outside of the classic way of doing things: Draft a player and hope he works out with some coaching. With rosters only 53 players deep and a practice squad of 16 players—who barely get any real opportunities to impress in limited practice reps—so many players are lost in the system.
Every year the NFL takes in a ton of players through the draft and through signing undrafted players. Some of these players find a way to have long and successful careers in the NFL. The rest of the guys bounce from team to team or practice squad to practice squad and never get a full shot at developing their skills. This usually leads to guys just falling out of the league and never getting a chance to live their dreams.
The NBA, NHL and MLB all have it right. Players are a lot less likely to fall by the wayside in these leagues. Some may still never work out, but they get a fair shot to work out in pro-style systems. The NFL needs to get in on this.
A developmental league helps coaches too
It’s not all about the players. Imagine if there were a world where young, up-and-coming coaches can get a shot auditioning for the jobs they want instead of waiting to get noticed. The XFL can do that for aspiring NFL coaches. The league could also help coaches who didn’t work out during their initial run in the NFL find their way back to the big leagues by giving them a second chance—something that is rarely afforded in the NFL.
Then there are the coaches that are already in the league. What if Dan Campbell is thinking about installing some crazy new offense and he wants to test it out? Campbell could, of course, use his team to test it out, but he could also send it down to the Detroit Lions’ developmental team to experiment with it, granted that team’s head coach was open to the idea.
This would probably keep the XFL alive
It’s time to be brutally honest. It’s cool that the XFL is trying again, and it’s cool that the USFL is back too, but this more than likely doesn't pan out. The AAF didn’t last long and both prior iterations of the XFL shut down. The USFL notoriously shut down in 1986 after failing to go head-to-head with the NFL. The XFL is more than likely going to fail again.
The XFL needs the NFL to stay alive. It’s cool that the XFL is going to try out new ideas for the league, but at the end of the day that doesn’t mean much if there’s really no real reason to watch the league. I love football a lot, but I can tell you I have very little interest in both leagues right now. As a consumer, why should I care about a bunch of players who aren't good enough to make it in NFL?
Now if those players had a connection to the team I love and a direct pipeline to an NFL roster, well now I have a reason to watch. Because as a fan, I’d really like to see how the running back the Lions picked up and sent down to their developmental team plays.
This is the reason I go to Grand Rapids Griffins games, or West Michigan Whitecaps games or Motor City Cruise games. I want to see the young players who could soon play for my teams. Instead of stashing these guys deep on a practice squad where they’re never seen by the public and rarely get opportunities to shine, a developmental league would both provide true opportunity for the players and entertainment for the fans.
This is good business for the NFL
The NFL is king right now. They currently own a day of the week. The NFL can rule the rest of the week, too, if their developmental league had games going on the days the NFL doesn’t play. What if there was Friday Night Football? According to The Last Boy Scout, Friday night is great night for football.
The NFL could also opt to have the XFL continue to run the league during the spring time or the summer time. In fac-, that might help out more for NFL teams. They can send players under futures contracts, practice squad players and maybe even newly drafted rookies to the league to develop before possibly bringing them up to the main roster when the regular season starts. There are possible injury issues linked to that idea, but it’s an idea nonetheless.
The NFL and XFL really need to work together on this. It’s not too late. They have until 2023 to reconsider this developmental idea.