The XFL Will Never Be a Developmental League for the NFL

The first iteration of the XFL debuted in 2001 and lasted for all of one season, costing both NBC and the WWF substantial investment money in the process. In 2018, Vince McMahon‘s Alpha Entertainment announced the formation of the new XFL. Whereas the first league was gimmicky and over the top, the new version focuses on quality play and athleticism.

The new XFL debuted earlier this year. Though the coronavirus cut its season short, most analysts agreed the league showed promise. Some even began to speculate that the XFL might morph into a developmental league for the NFL. We don’t think this will happen. Instead, there’s a more realistic way the two leagues can live in harmony.

Nobody knows yet if the XFL will be successful

Spring football is a seemingly lucrative dream that nobody has found a successful way to capitalize on. First, there was the previous XFL’s failure. Then, in 2019, football fans witnessed the firey collapse and bankruptcy of the American Football Alliance, which Sports Illustrated detailed. It didn’t even manage to make it through an entire season.

Skeptics rightly point to such precedents when asked about the XFL’s viability as a potential developmental league. First, the XFL must overcome the hurdle of proving that it offers a viable and sustainable football league. A lot of potential roadblocks stand in its way, including the question of quality of play.

The worst NFL teams are already borderline unwatchable, which means the XFL will face a hurdle attracting viewers. This challenge grows even greater when you consider that fans will have no real incentive to root for any of the teams. In order to overcome these problems, the XFL introduced new rules designed to increase the entertainment factor.

Yet no matter how promising the XFL may seem, we simply won’t know if it’ll work until we see a few more seasons. Any talk about making the XFL a development league before then is simply premature.

The NCAA is basically already a developmental league

The NFL is unique among major sports leagues; it doesn’t have a minor league system. In that regard, the XFL strikes many people as the perfect place for developing young talent. The only problem with that position is that the NCAA basically already fulfills a developmental role for the NFL.

Unlike the NFL, the XFL doesn’t have any college eligibility rules for its draft. That difference suggests the XFL hopes it can lure away enough college recruits to become an official developmental league. However, this seems overly optimistic at this point.

Even with all of its well-documented problems, the NCAA remains a behemoth in the sports world. It won’t relinquish its developmental role without a fight the XFL can’t afford to win.

The XFL can still provide a home for aspiring NFL players

De'Mornay Pierson-El of the XFL's St. Louis BattleHawks celebrating the first touchdown with fans
De’Mornay Pierson-El of the XFL’s St. Louis BattleHawks celebrates with fans | Scott Rovak/XFL via Getty Images

While the XFL likely won’t ever be an official development league for the NFL, it can still be a useful training ground for some players. There’s every reason to assume the NFL will discover talented players and sign them out of the XFL. For a good analogy, consider the Arena Football League.

Short-sighted analysts often write off the relationship between the Arena Football League and NFL. Yet over 125 different players have played in both leagues, reports Cronkite News.

The most high-profile example is Kurt Warner. The quarterback spent several post-college years playing for the Iowa Barnstormers, only to go on to win two NFL MVP awards and lead the St. Louis Rams to a victory over the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV.