What you need to know: WWE mogul Vincent Kennedy McMahon takes a second crack at starting a spring football league.
What I liked
The quality of play: They were fun games to watch. There were big plays and good plays. The quarterbacks could throw. The offensive lines could block. Defenders laid out some spectacular hits and whiffed elsewhere. The Los Angeles Wildcats had trouble in the second half, but that largely was because they were forced to start a quarterback with just five practices under his belt, then benched him for a third-stringer who was not good at all. Houston quarterback P.J. Walker threw four touchdown passes and could become the face of the XFL. Washington quarterback Cardale Jones, who started when Ohio State won the 2014 national title, also made some fun NFL-caliber throws. Seattle wide receiver Austin Proehl, the son of longtime NFL wide receiver Ricky Proehl, scored the XFL’s first touchdown.
The officiating: I absolutely love that the TV audience can hear the officiating crew discussing penalties and that there are cameras and microphones inside the replay booth. Viewers get to see the sausage made. The NFL should adopt that immediately but will not. The penalties were not intrusive. There was no Talmudic scholarship of an inscrutable rulebook over what is or is not a catch. Officials let players play, but not to the point of dangerous hits. That’s a critical balance not easy to maintain.
Gambling: The ABC broadcast included the over-under in the score bug, and each quarter included a graphic of the Caesars Sportsbook lines of all of the weekend’s games. The Fox broadcast didn’t include the wagering data throughout the game. The league has various gambling deals in place, which is probably smart given the growing wave of legalized sports wagering. The betting element was low-key during the broadcasts, which is probably smart because most fans still don’t bet on sports. But it was enough that you want to satisfy their thirst for information, too.
Game length: The XFL intends for its games to be crisper and faster than NFL telecasts, and to that end, the new league has fewer commercials, a shorter halftime, a 25-second play clock (versus 40 in the NFL), one official whose job is solely to spot the ball, only two timeouts per team, booth-only challenges and a running clock for all plays outside of two minutes. The XFL wants games to be two hours and 45 minutes, yet both on Saturday ran longer than three hours, with the early game bleeding over the second. Still, the pace of play felt faster than an NFL game. Maybe it’s just me?
What I didn’t
Things to work on On the field, the tackling at times was suspect. As in the NFL, quarterback play will define the product, so L.A.’s situation is critical to watch. That’s the second-largest market. For the technical broadcast, the sound occasionally was iffy during the live interviews because the subject wasn’t near enough to the mic or was facing away from it.
Bottom Line: You’d have to say the XFL hit a home run with it’s launch. It was fun and innovative. The question remains. Can it survive long term once the newness wears off?