Say hello to the all-new XFL

Let’s end the week with a column that abandons all pretense of impartiality, neutrality or balance. Let me go on record right here, right now, and tell you this.

I am rooting for the XFL. I am rooting for it in the kind of way you are supposed to root for a team, or a college, or a nation, not necessarily for an organization mostly funded by a billionaire.

I am rooting for it even though I couldn’t be certain enough to stake the mortgage on what its initials actually stand for and with full knowledge of its failed previous incarnation.

The reason I want to XFL to win — which, in light of all that has gone before it, means to survive — is because it feels like the last throw of the dice.

If we are ever to have a supplemental professional American football league that catches on and persists, this is when it is going to happen.

The list of past attempts at getting another football organization off the ground is long and not especially glorious. The United States Football League took a crack at it in the 1980s, positioning itself as a genuine competitor to the National Football League, before collapsing amid a sea of acrimony.

Prior to that, the World Football League promised to take football global in the mid-1970s, but only reached as far as Hawaii and folded less than two years in.

The United Football League never gained much momentum a decade ago; the Alliance of American Football actually did, but simply ran out of money in 2019 and caved under the fiscal obligation after just eight weeks.

It is a tough gig, trying to get people to watch professional football when all they are used to is the NFL, one of the most professional and finely-tuned sporting products the world has ever seen.

And yet, there are plenty of reasons why, if done right, a second league could find itself a spot in the American sporting psyche. For a start, there is plenty of calendar to fill between the first weekend in February and Week 1 of the 2020 season, all the way off on Sept. 10 of this year.

This country’s appetite for football is certainly there — do we really need more evidence of that than the utter obsession that is played out across the country whenever a pigskin is being hurled around?

Mostly though, I want the XFL to succeed because I believe it would genuinely benefit the game. Plus — and not everyone may agree with this — it may benefit the NFL as well.

There are hundreds of quality football players in this country who do not currently have a job in the game. Some of them flamed out because they were just not good enough. But many others got cut for a wide variety of reasons. Sometimes it was for positional or roster management issues. Maybe they didn’t have the right agent or connections to get another chance. Made they were in the wrong scheme for their talents.

Maybe they failed on the big stage. Maybe they weren’t good enough … yet.

Having another league that gives talented players a second chance, or even gives college players a shot at making some money, cannot be a bad thing. It works for other sports. Why not football?

Then there is the reality that the XFL, being so new, is not bound by the typical traditions and customs that we see in the NFL. As the game evolves, the XFL is free to try fresh things out. If they fail, no harm done. If they prove to be a hit, then the NFL will have had its market research done for it.

A prime example is in the set of innovative rules the XFL has implemented for this campaign, which begins on Saturday and sees the Houston Roughnecks host the Los Angeles Wildcats on FOX later that day.

Extra points have been ditched in favor of one-, two- and three-point conversations, with teams having the option to go for it from the two-, five- and 10-yard line, with varying degrees of reward.

A double-forward pass option allows for creativity in the playbook, and punting is disincentivized to encourage more aggressive offense. A 25-second play clock is one of a number of measures aimed at quickening the game and shortening the total time duration.

“We wanted to create a package of rules that allows our players and coaches to play fast,” commissioner Oliver Luck said on First Things First. “That input comes from our fans; we talked to thousands of fans, and they said that they love American football, it is America’s favorite sport as we know, but they thought there was too much downtime. Let’s pick up the pace a little bit.”

Talking of picking up the pace, some new football leagues have started with a bang and a flurry of momentum. The XFL did so, back in 2001. The AAF caught some traction, but burned out in rapid time.

So, while a buoyant beginning to the XFL season would be nice, I’m much more interested to see lingering excitement for it by the time the championship game rolls around on Apr. 26.

And for the start of next season, and the one after that. There have been attempts and failures at this kind of venture in the past and there could be more in the future. But this feels like the best shot at creating a worthy addition to the football calendar.

Right now, I couldn’t give two hoots if it is the Roughnecks or the Wildcats, or the Tampa Bay Vipers or the Seattle Dragons, or Bob Stoops’ Dallas Renegades or Cardale Jones’ DC Defenders that takes the title.

I just hope it catches on, sticks around and thrives.