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XFL Launches, But Will The League Satisfy Football-Starved NFL Fans?

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Dave Edwards via Flickr
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For millions of Americans, things like soy and almond milk and plant-based protein have become important substitutes for more traditional products like cow’s milk or hamburgers, to the point where many will say that you can’t tell the difference between them.

Well, now comes the XFL, a new professional football alternative to the NFL, unveiled the weekend after the Super Bowl.

And its founders hope you find it a tasty supplement, a snack to tide you over until the main course is served again next summer and fall.

So far, in its first two weeks, the XFL product has closely enough resembled the NFL for enough folks to give it a sample.

To be sure, the letters XFL should inspire some sense of déjà vu among American sports observers, as this is a reincarnation of the league, which originally launched 19 years ago.

That XFL was co-owned by NBC and the World Wrestling Federation and leaned heavily toward the show business end, using WWF announcers and permitting players to wear their nicknames on their jerseys.

Flash forward to today’s XFL, a creation now, as then, of WWE chairman Vince McMahon. However, McMahon has wisely dialed himself and wrestling’s edges out of the equation, concentrating on providing just football.

The league has eight franchises, spread from NFL markets like Los Angeles and New York, with a team in St. Louis, a city abandoned by the NFL, thrown in for good measure.

And in many respects, the product looks a lot structurally like what you’d see on an NFL Sunday, with quarterbacks and blitzes and hard hitting.

There are, however, important differences between the NFL and the new look XFL, which has a modified kickoff where only the kicker moves until the receiver touches the ball.

There are no kicked extra points, but a team can try for a three-point point after, meaning a touchdown could be worth as many as nine points.

And there’s no place you the viewer can’t go. During a telecast, you’ll hear plays being called, in game interviews with players and coaches seconds after a big play. And the referees let you in on what they’re thinking before making calls.

Oh, and no one shrinks from gambling talk. During telecasts on ABC, Fox and ESPN, game odds are posted right on the screen, a stark distinction from the NFL.

The XFL’s commissioner, former West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, has kept the league’s focus on avoiding the mistakes of previous leagues a la the USFL, which tried to go head to head with the NFL, or the blink and you missed it Alliance of American Football, which didn’t even finish its inaugural season last summer.

The average XFL salary is about $55-thousand, a far cry from the $2.7 million average pay in the NFL, and commensurate with the talent gap between the leagues at this point.

But McMahon and Luck are gambling that their version of cashew milk and Impossible Burgers are alright for starving football fans. We’ll see if that bet pays off.

And that’s how I see it for this week.

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Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.