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Can the XFL give players a new path to the NFL?

Not having the same rules as the NFL when it comes to eligibility, the XFL may offer an alternative path to the big leagues

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 22 Kansas State at West Virginia

Some may wonder why the XFL is a topic of discussion here at Behind The Steel Curtain. Well, first of all, it’s football. Secondly, in it’s first go round in 2001, the XFL gave the Steelers a starting quarterback before the Ben Roethlisberger era started who ended up starting 32 games. Tommy Maddox was with the Steelers for five seasons, one of which he started all 16 games before the Steelers drafted Ben Roethlisberger. Had it not been for the XFL, Maddox probably would’ve been forgotten after his 1995 season with the New York Giants. Instead, he ranks ninth in Pittsburgh Steelers’ history in number of game started at the quarterback position since 1950.

With the XFL as a viable option for players to either return or get their first chance at an NFL contract, it is an interesting league to keep up with just in case. But within the typical avenues for players to be noticed, there is one player in particular who is taking a completely different route which could open up an alternative pathway to the NFL.

In an article published last month by the XFL, they highlighted a safety from the St. Louis BattleHawks by the name of Kenny Robinson. Some may recognize the name as he was a safety for the West Virginia University Mountaineers for two seasons. To sum up his story as quickly as possible, Robinson found himself ineligible and needing to transfer to finish out his college eligibility while waiting to meet the requirements of the NFL. Instead of sitting out a season before returning to college or entering the NFL draft, Robertson chose to head to the XFL to both earn a paycheck and make a name for himself.

What is interesting in the Robinson case is he is eligible for the NFL draft in April. He is the only person in the XFL who still had college eligibility remaining although his pro status has probably ended the possibility with the NCAA. Robertson’s path could be just the first player in a long line if the XFL chooses to allow other players the opportunity to go professional rather than stay in college.

In order for player to be eligible for the NFL, they must be at least three years removed from high school. With other professional sports not having the same requirements for players once they graduate high school, the NFL has struck a deal with the NCAA to keep players in college longer. But the XFL has no such deal. Will other players desire to turn pro at a reduced cost rather than finish out their college eligibility?

If the XFL chooses, they could become as much a professional minor-league system to the NFL as they are the opportunity for players who are still trying to break into or get back into the league. Rather than risk the opportunity for injury while not being paid, would it be to a player’s benefit to enter the XFL and receive a paycheck while developing against better competition? Would a quarterback be better served playing in the XFL rather than college to give them the necessary experience?

First of all, the XFL is going to have to stick around. Failing after just one season, the odds are still stacked against the league as it tries to take hold. With the AAF crumbling before they could even complete their season in 2019, the XFL knows it is a tough path to success. But in my opinion, the product on the field this past weekend was much better than I had seen either last year or in 2001.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Robinson this season with both the XFL and the NFL. In his first game, Robinson had five tackles which was tied for the third most on the BlackHawks.

Would some players benefit by not having to go through three years in the NCAA before collecting some sort of pay? Would this make a better product in the XFL in the long run? These questions may be answered over time. But until then, it is all speculation.