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The XFL denies its place as a developmental league, even as its stars continue to... develop

St. Louis BattleHawks v Houston Roughnecks Photo by Thomas Campbell/XFL via Getty Images

Last week we published the bulk of our Q&A with Seattle Dragons president Ryan Gustafson.

However, we asked one more question. It’s the question that has been pondered by so many for several months as we’ve been watching the impending arrival of a second professional football league. Namely, what is the relationship between the two? Is there any? As I wandered around CenturyLink Field the last two weeks, fans are either interested in solving which guys are going to become NFL stars or which NCAA elite quarterbacks are going to leave school early to play in the XFL?

Both of these are the extreme, alcohol-aided version of that pendulum, but sane versions of the question have been asked by many. It’s completely justifiable to wonder whether an athlete can break out in the XFL, building a better resume for a shot at the NFL. Similarly, one has to consider the reality that $55,000 for a season might be a better option than sitting behind your school’s lauded five-star recruit, especially for a QB who could stand to make even more.

So we asked the Dragons something in between, to get the ball rolling:

Finally, we know there’s particular interest in the idea of whether the NFL would allow practice squad players to be eligible for the XFL season. Is this anything that’s ever been floated by the presidents / coaches, or is that type of arrangement something you guys would be interested in?

I’ll defer questions such as this to our league office. Our goal has always been to build a stand-alone professional football league for the long-haul, giving players an opportunity to play and fans the opportunity to access the game we all love.

The response was unhelpful, but not altogether surprising. It’s consistent with everything we’ve been hearing out the league since it began to resurface. Earlier this year, SB Nation covered the position that the XFL’s purpose is not as a developmental league.

From XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck:

There is no formal relationship. We are not a developmental league for the National Football League. Vince has made it clear to me that he wants to build a stand-alone sustainable league that has its own stars and own brand identity.

We have very positive informal relationships with the league office. I worked in the league for a number of years after I quit playing. Virtually all of our coaching with the XFL, we probably have great relationships with all of the 32 NFL clubs, particularly the personnel people.

Which I think is a bit of a mistake, and one of the few that’s apparent in the XFL thus far. While playing an entire ten-game season in February does not lend itself well to being a “minor league” for the NFL, it seems unnecessary to deny the reality of the situation that a majority of the XFL has hopes for a big league phone call. Where the top-level leadership of the XFL will hopefully end up someday is to believe that if players are ever able to break out and prove they’re capable of playing at an even higher level, that would be a benefit to the XFL, not a detriment.

The league needs to recognize that if its first superstar in PJ Walker signs with an NFL franchise, the league will not be diminished. Five overlooked quarterbacks all better than Brandon Silvers will sign up the next day to play professional football and will improve the competition.

America thrives on possibility and potential even more than it celebrates star power. It’s built into the American dream and the promise of everything one can achieve. It’s why teams in Major League Baseball are content to be bad for four years, draft a bunch of teenagers, and then throw them all together as they “achieve their potential.”

It’s also an attitude that seems to have been woven into the DNA of the XFL from its origin. Attitudes such as this are prevalent across the nation right now.

Fans barely know the players in the back of their own team’s roster. My brother is a fantasy football superstar and he hardly even knows the names of Seattle Seahawk defensive players, let alone the average PNW hipster keeping track of their team’s eight practice squad players.

But do something like this -

something 1) recognizable, 2) impressive, and most importantly 3) on the Internet, and I’m not sure the desire to actually play and actually be seen is a such a small pull. Three weeks in and it seems like this thing has some momentum. I can’t imagine UDFAs or practice squad cuts passing up $55,000 to play for crowds at least the size of Cal vs. Arizona State and be on national TV every week. It’s a great gig and about as good of a second chance as there is. I see no reason why a previously unheralded Tight End from Stetson University carving his path through, and ultimately out of, the XFL, would be anything but great for the league. One of our favorite things to do is tune in to see “who’s next,” and the mere presence of potential would simply elevate the league’s status across the board.