By Matt Oakes
For those of you who don’t keep track of current events in the world of sport, on the night of Feb. 3, NBC is going to hit you over the head with a grey, foldable metal chair. Ouch. It’s gonna hurt.
Indeed, the likely-painful XFL season opener is just over two weeks away and only one question really matters: will this new league be sport or spectacle? The answer is–both. What no one seems to know for sure is where the emphasis will be. Will it be on creating and nurturing traditional competitive football? Will it be the sort of choreographed swank that makes the WWF a testosterone-driven ratings grabber? We shall see.
First of all, what exactly is the XFL?
The XFL, or Extreme Football League, is the latest endeavour to captivate 12-40 year old males and was conceived by the owner of the stunningly lucrative World Wrestling Federation, Vince McMahon. This new eight-team league is designed to capitalize on the immense popularity of football in America and to cater to, not compete with, the firmly entrenched National Football League. It’s no coincidence the XFL season begins one week after the Super Bowl.
There are rule changes that make the game more violent and fast-paced. But let’s not get carried away. In McMahon’s own words, the XFL is "really very, very close to the NFL. Some of the departures–the no fair-catch and things of that nature–quite frankly are turning the clock back the way the NFL used to be played."
McMahon owns a majority of the league and has created it in such a way that it can’t fail. By recognizing the biggest threat to all professional sport is the conflict between the player’s unions and the team owners, McMahon decided to ban a player’s union in his league. Problem solved. In addition, McMahon coaxed media giant NBC to purchase half the league franchises in exchange for exclusive television rights. It doesn’t matter if anybody watches, it’s a win-win situation, right?
So why are we going to watch it? Simple. We will watch it for the same reason that we must slow down and watch the aftermath of a traffic accident with the hopes of catching a glimpse of a decapitated body being shoved into the back of an ambulance. Humanity craves violence and sex and the XFL promises to deliver on both.
So far, the XFL is all hype and no hits–except for a commercial featuring mostly naked cheerleaders. "I think there’ll be a degree of sexuality," says McMahon. "The cheerleaders are going to be an integral part of the game. You are going to get to know these girls and they are going to become stars in their own right."
In addition to flaunting their wares on the sidelines, cheerleaders will introduce the starting lineups, says McMahon. "If a cheerleader, for argument’s sake, introduces a tight end–I think you know where I’m going with this–there may be a little double-entendre, not unsavoury, but things that are different from the NFL."
To add to the hype, McMahon hired Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, the former pro wrestler and Navy SEAL, to do play-by-play. When asked if his new job will interfere with his public duties, Ventura responded, "To the best of my knowledge, I have not set foot in my office one time on a Saturday night. State offices are closed on Saturdays and Sundays anyway."
In addition to Ventura, former American Gladiator Lee Reherman will handle the sideline duties. Previously, Reherman spent time as the host of TNN’s Rollerjam and acted in Schwartzenegger’s gem "The Last Action Hero."
By the time the hype settles, the question of integrity will have been answered. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter whether the league exhibits quality football or not, the XFL will survive. Why? Because it’s football, and we will watch it.