STAMFORD, Conn. — The XFL is no longer an ex-football league.
The sexed-up, second-rate football league formed as the early 2000s brainchild of WWE ringleader Vince McMahon is set for a surprising second life in 2020. The league that spawned “He Hate Me” and placed TV cameras in the bathroom flamed out in 2001 after one wild season. Interest in the league was reignited when ESPN aired the “This Was the XFL” documentary that chronicled the spectacular football failure.
McMahon is back in charge, pumping $100 million into the XFL through his new private entity, Alpha Entertainment.
“I’ve always wanted to bring it back,” the 72-year-old McMahon said on Thursday. “I think the most important thing that we learned with the older XFL and now the new XFL is the quality of play. We have two years now to really get it right.”
McMahon, who will continue as chairman and CEO of WWE, offered few other details about the football comeback. The XFL will launch with eight teams, 40-man active rosters and a 10-week regular-season schedule. McMahon said the schedule, designed to fill the seven-month gap without the NFL, could begin as early as the end of January. No cities or TV partners were named.
The league will own the eight teams.
The original XFL was founded by the wrestling company and jointly owned by NBC, and opened to massive TV ratings. But the audience did not stick around on Saturday nights to watch bad football, lascivious cheerleader shots, sophomoric double entendres and other gimmicks that saw ratings plummet and quickly doomed the league.
The XFL in 2001 had eight teams, mostly in major markets, such as Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. McMahon said the selection of cities in the new XFL will be announced in the next few months, and a mix of major and mid-major markets will be considered.
The XFL postseason will have two semifinal games and a championship game. XFL salaries have yet to be decided, though players will be paid more to win. He wants a 2-hour game and even tossed out the idea of eliminating halftime.
“We will present a shorter, faster-paced, family-friendly and easier to understand game,” McMahon said. “It’s still football. But it’s professional football reimagined.”
This could be a gimmick-free XFL, perhaps without nicknames such as Rod Smart’s “He Hate Me” stitched on the back of his uniform.
McMahon said the XFL did not want players with a criminal record and even a DUI would exclude an athlete from a contract. McMahon wanted his players to stand for the national anthem, though stopped short of saying it was mandatory.
“As far as our league is concerned, it will have nothing to do with politics,” McMahon said. “And nothing to do with social issues, either. We’re there to play football.”
The XFL and WWE will have no crossover, unlike the first incarnation when wrestling announcers and personalities such as former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura dominated the football telecast.
McMahon promised a safer football league, though he again offered no specifics for a league that unveiled a human coin toss the first time around — players scrambled from each team to grab the football to decide possession. One player separated his shoulder fighting for the ball.
“We’re going to listen to medical experts and heed their advice,” McMahon said.