The XFL got off to a fairly successful start in its opening weekend. The football was okay, the ratings were solid, and the broadcast experience was unique. Cautious optimism is the name of the game when it comes to startup football leagues, though; while it doesn't seem likely the XFL will fold as quickly as the AAF with Vince McMahon as the financial backer, long-term success is still not guaranteed.
The gap of quality in play will never be closed, but it can be lessened by adding talent from all sorts of sources, not just signing guys who couldn't make it on the end of an NFL roster. XFL commissioner Oliver Luck went on the Dan Patrick Show and said that the XFL could try to sign college freshmen or sophomores, but have yet to do so. That doesn't mean they won't in the future.
Here is the full video of Luck's segment:
I would imagine part of the reason they haven't dipped any toes in the water is that they're still far from the point where a brief XFL career is a viable alternative to college after only one week of existence. But should the league establish itself as a minor league of sorts to the NFL, it does present an interesting alternative path to professional football. Is it better than going the college route?
The players would get paid, obviously, so the XFL automatically has a leg up in that regard. But the average salary for position players is only about $55,000, and it isn't guaranteed. That's less than a year's tuition at most schools in the U.S. at this point. Would a star linebacker turn down a full ride from a college to make $165,000 before taxes over the course of three years? As the XFL's biggest star in Cardale Jones once said, football players don't attend college to play school. The value of the education attached to the scholarship will vary from player to player. But from a sheer monetary standpoint, a player would technically get more bang for his buck from a four-year scholarship than a three-year XFL contract at the current salary numbers (at least by the averages).
The QB contracts are where the XFL could lure away top prospects, however. According to Yahoo Sports, the top QBs in the XFL have a salary of $495,000. Let's use Trevor Lawrence as a case study. A full out-of-state scholarship to Clemson University costs about $55,000 a year. Lawrence will almost certainly leave after his junior season in 2021, so Clemson will have ended up shelling out $165,000 to have Lawrence on campus. Lawrence doesn't have to pay for his own food or lodging, and receives an education on top of that.
If Lawrence spent three years in the XFL at the reported QB salary, he'd have made approximately $1.4 million before taxes and living expenses. That, of course, is money in his pocket that no scholarship at Clemson would grant him. For any player who wants to make money over anything, it's an easy choice.
But there are plenty of factors outside of money vs. education to consider. Clemson and other top-tier football schools have supporting programs around their players that more than likely far outweigh the XFL in quality, from trainers and medical personnel to coaching staff. There's also a matter of exposure and the trust NFL teams have built with college programs around the country; even a program that doesn't regularly appear in the CFP like, say, South Carolina would give the players a far wider audience to showcase their talents and has plenty of coaches and alumni willing to put in a good word with the right people at the professional level.
All of this could change a few years down the road. Should the XFL prove to be successful and a source of revenue, teams will be more willing to shell out the money for better support around their players. But colleges will have the upper hand in every regard other than cold, hard cash for the foreseeable future.
The XFL probably isn't a realistic option for any four-or-five-star recruits unless they want to be the face of amateur athlete empowerment. It'll also be pretty difficult for a lesser QB recruit to convince an XFL team he's worth half a million over someone like Landry Jones, who may be less talented than a hidden gem of a recruit coming out of high school but has the name recognition that the XFL will need to survive.
Still, money talks. That's what the XFL can offer. If the league can produce revenue and drive up the player salaries, it'll only help their case. If the XFL were willing to pay over a million dollars a year for top talent, then we might be looking at an interesting value proposition. Like most things with the XFL, it'll be fascinating to see it all unfold.