Can the XFL Be a Viable Alternative for College Football Players?

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistFebruary 28, 2020

ST LOUIS, MO - FEBRUARY 23: A view of the XFL logo on the down marker during the second half of an XFL game between the St. Louis Battlehawks and the NY Guardians at The Dome at America Center on February 23, 2020 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
Jeff Curry/Getty Images

The initial excitement of the XFL's second debut has faded, and the long-term questions surrounding the league's viability will soon become a much larger talking point.

For the XFL to survive, the league must settle its place in the football hierarchy. Catching the NFL's talent level is an unrealistic goal—so too is matching the popularity of college football because of its deep regional and emotional connections.

Should this be a minor league system for the NFL? Is the XFL a secondary path to the NFL? A combination? Something else?

That conundrum has no perfect answer, and opinions will continue to evolve as the sample size increases.

But the key question relating to college football is a problematic oneand it cannot be answered soon. When will a player feel comfortable enough to make the XFL leap?

XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck has said the league is not subject to the NFL's eligibility requirements. As the rules for the NFL stand, players must be three years removed from their high school graduation to be eligible. But the XFL, Luck said, is allowed to sign anyone in accordance with local labor laws.

Save for exceptionally rare situations, a high school senior will not be a realistic option. College freshmen regularly say their biggest adjustment is adapting to the speed of the game, and the XFL is even a little faster. And the physical gap between a 26-year-old NFL journeyman and an 18-year-old is, well, substantial.

Matt Patterson/Associated Press

The XFL-worthy pool, then, is limited to players in college. Yet anyone contemplating the jump must be prepared for the worst-case scenario: What if the XFL doesn't last?

At this moment, NCAA rules would prohibit a player from returning to college football. The moment a player is compensated, he's labeled a professional. There are no competitive alternatives; he'd be relying on the XFL, and the XFL alone.

And even if the NCAA changes its stance on athlete compensation in the future, the college-pro-college path won't necessarily exist. We're operating under this assumption.

The XFL is currently shouldering a heavy burden of proof to reach before it is considered a remotely secure route. While attendance has steadily climbed early in its 2020 season, TV ratings have dipped. We're waiting to see when ratings level off, which is an important factor in long-term projections. The numbers are decent right now, but a continued decline would be worrisome.

As a result, the only college-eligible players who should believe the XFL is a safe choice would also be NFL draft-eligible players.

Right now, the league's lone such prospect found his way there because of unique circumstances. West Virginia dismissed All-Big 12 safety and rising junior Kenny Robinson in June 2019 after a code of conduct violation related to an academic matter.

Robinson plays for the St. Louis BattleHawks and is likely to be selected in the 2020 NFL draft.

"It was either go to school or help take care of my family and do what I love," Robinson said of his path. "The XFL is also paying for me to take classes still, so I can take classes and get my degree and take care of my family at the same time."

College players may see Robinson's success and consider repeating it, but the players who truly consider it will be exceptions too. Accepting the physical toll of playing 12-15 college games, taking a month off and entering a 10-game XFL season is unrealistic.

If a draft-eligible prospect missed the preceding college seasondue to an injury or otherwisethe XFL could be sensible.

The question nobody can answer is whether playing in the XFL is more valuable than participating in the NFL Scouting Combine. There is no evidence to support either conclusion yet.

For now, the XFL should embrace college football's exceptions. It could be a quarterback looking to improve his draft stock, but his senior year is derailed by injury, or a talented player dismissed for academic reasons. The upside of that decision, while unproven, is logical.

But until the league proves it has a definite two-year window of existence, only college players with no long-term risk in turning pro will have the need to consider the XFL.

               

Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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