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How Could the XFL Persuade You to Watch?

On Thursday, Vince McMahon announced plans to bring back the XFL in 2020, so we asked the Ringer staff what it would take for them to watch the alternate pro football league

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On Thursday afternoon, WWE chairman Vince McMahon took to a livestream to announce plans to bring back the XFL in 2020. The football league — which played its first and only season in 2001 — was founded as an alternative to the NFL, but quickly proved financially unsustainable, unpopular on TV ratings, and unsuccessful overall. Now McMahon is trying to run it back, and various members of the Ringer staff explained how the league could get them invested.

Danny Kelly: I think the draw of the XFL for a lot of fans is going to be its role as a de facto feeder league for the NFL that runs concurrent to the free agency and NFL draft seasons. Of course, the CFL and Arena League already somewhat act as “the NFL’s minor leagues,” but if the XFL creates a product whose rules and style more closely resemble actual NFL play, that could be a big draw. I’d watch it if the league worked as a way for unsigned free agents to hone their craft and showcase their abilities to get a job with an NFL club — a third avenue that draftniks and NFL fans could watch and study for team-building purposes. Tons of players fall through the cracks as the league is currently set up, whether we’re talking about the young players who get overlooked throughout the draft process, those who fail to stick due to injuries, or the guys who simply age out of a league that keeps its teams stocked with low-paid first-contract players.

David Shoemaker: This is what the XFL needs to do:

1. Have an anonymous league GM who changes the rules arbitrarily in the middle of games. This is a must.

2. Televise the players getting their PED test results, Maury-style.

3. Have a team called the Brooklyn Brawlers that loses every game.

4. Hand out $50,000 cash prizes for offensive and defensive MVPs in each game.

5(a). Forget playoffs — hell, forget real seasons. Start each season with the biggest-market team as champion, and if you beat the champ, you’re the champ.

5(b). Award a “Money in the Bank”–style briefcase in a preseason skills contest, and the winner’s team is allowed to challenge the champion to a game at any time during the season.

6. Seriously, though: no stupid “three years of college” rule. You’ll have the best 18-to-20-year-olds in the world knocking the door down to come play.

7. Even more serious: Ask the NFL if you can have the Jets. They’ll probably say yes.

Riley McAtee: I need the olds.

Earlier this week, 55-year-old Jerry Rice said that he would come back to play football “in a heartbeat.” Two years ago, now-55-year-old Herschel Walker said he wanted to be the “George Foreman” of football, explaining that there was no doubt in his mind that he could be a valuable member of a football team. In November, now-44-year-old Terrell Owens said he “can help anybody.”

Obviously these former players do not belong on an NFL field, which is a violent, harmful place even for young athletes. But McMahon reassured us in his press conference that the XFL will be “as safe as possible,” so what could go wrong? Get these legends onto the XFL gridiron and I might just flip to whatever astronomically high cable channel this league will be on.

Danny Heifetz: No punting allowed.

Many of the aspects of football that coaches consider sacrosanct — field position, special teams, managing the clock — are extremely boring. Outside of making the game safer, the best change the XFL could make to the sport would be to completely eliminate the option to punt. Teams have four downs to convert a first down, and if they don’t, they turn the ball over.

Every aspect of football would get better. An extra required offensive down would open up more play-calling options, if not entirely new playbooks. Flipping the field would directly translate into points, so the best offense would literally be a good defense. Eliminating punting is the kind of dramatic alteration to the sport’s DNA that would draw attention, but wouldn’t actually change anything we love about football. If you want people to watch, punt on punting.

Chris Almeida: The NFL is boring. Even most of the good teams are bad. And, at the end of the day, the players are putting themselves at risk for a bunch of rich people who clearly don’t care to do much besides, as David Roth put it, “bump along the bottoms of their divisions and collect their share of the $39.6 billion in television revenues that the league’s thirty-two teams will divide between 2014 and 2022.”

How can the XFL become watchable? Put the assets of the NFL owners at stake. The NFL team that finishes in last should send a not-insubstantial portion of the ownership’s money to the players of the winning XFL team. Relegation is also fun. I don’t know how it would happen, but if the Browns could somehow end up in the XFL, I’d be more likely to watch them.

Justin Verrier: The Undertaker.