Now that the AAF is no more, the XFL has the (poorly lit) spring football stage to itself. This won’t be the same rock ’em, sock ’em league that originally debuted (and died) in 2001, but instead a different football experience, where players stand for the anthem and those with criminal records are not welcome.
Another possible difference from XFL 1.0? College-aged players.
In an interview with ProFootballTalk, XFL commissioner Oliver Luck did not rule out the idea that his league would take players not yet eligible for the NFL draft.
“I would say this there has been as you know a number of guys who’ve sort of talking about it,” Luck said. “I think our launching point, February of 2020, is still down the way a little bit. We’re not actively talking to anybody at this point, but it is something that we are looking at. As I have said many times before I would only do that if I believe and our coaches believe [that] a young man who is not eligible enough for the NFL but nonetheless has the physical, the emotional, the mental sort of maturity to play professional football, because we’re gonna have 26-, 27-, who knows, 28-, 30-year-olds playing in our league. . . . It’s something that’s certainly in our playbook. At this point we really haven’t spent much time thinking about it.”
That’s about as non-committal an answer as one can give, but he did not rule it out. Another group not ruling it out is current college football players.
“If [the XFL] is offering that kind of money, that’s hard for an 18- or 19-year-old to turn down,” Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross told Bleacher Report earlier this month. “If you really need that money, oh yeah, go do that. Something could happen. You can get hurt. Anything can happen. You have to take care of yourself because it can be over just like that.”
Ross is exactly the type of player for whom an early, early exit may make sense. A high 4-star recruit in Clemson’s 2018 class, the Phenix City, Ala., native was last season torching the Notre Dame and Alabama secondaries, hauling in 12 grabs for 301 yards and three touchdowns in the College Football Playoff alone.
Entering his true sophomore season, Ross is NFL-ready right now, but the NFL won’t have him for another two years. Perhaps the XFL would be willing to take him or someone like him when it opens its doors in February of 2020, stuffing $200,000 or so dollars in his bank account before he makes real money in the NFL.
College basketball can see a similar crossroads in the distance. Industry insiders expect the NBA to once again allow high school players to go directly to the draft once its current collective bargaining agreement expires in 2022, meaning the NCAA will have competition for the nation’s best high school basketball players for the first time since 2004.
The prospect of the XFL poaching active college players is far from a sure thing, but it’s enough of a possibility that a smart organization would began brainstorming how to deal with this potential threat. We’ll see if the NCAA falls in that category.