RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Fly or fail, not many people thought the XFL’s second attempt would be briefer than its first. Teams had only played five games apiece, but on Friday the league showed employees and players the door, suspending all operations with no plans to return in 2021.
"If the XFL started last year, we wouldn't be talking about it being terminated right now," said former Spider offensive lineman John Yarbrough, who was a member of the Tampa Bay Vipers this season.
For players like Yarbrough on the cusp of the NFL, the XFL served as a perfect stage to make an impression, but coronavirus shutting down the rest of the 2020 season set the league's downfall in motion. The former Spider said that when he was told players would still be paid despite the stoppage due to COVID-19, it sounded a little too good to be true.
"My first inclination was that my paycheck today was a little bit bigger," noted Yarbrough, who played at Richmond from 2015-2018. "They ended up giving us vacation pay as well, and then we saw the news."
It's hard for a first-year league to get going and make money during its inaugural season. Yarbrough didn't think the XFL was counting on turning too much of a profit in 2020, but the global pandemic could not have come at a worse time for a league trying to gain traction.
"They had people from the league office telling us how they had five year plans. I think the league was really well thought out, it was just one of those things where timing really killed them."
Yarbrough started his pro career in camp with the Cleveland Browns, and after being cut, finished out the summer with the Carolina Panthers. The XFL gave him a place to improve on what he learned in the NFL camps, be on a professional team, and play on national television.
"My mom's from Chicago, so half of my family lives up there so they could all watch my games as well, which was really fun. I was really excited about the whole idea."
The league closing its doors is certainly disappointing, but for guys like Yarbrough who are fighting to make NFL rosters, it's not an unfamiliar situation.
"This is kind of the nature of the business, especially when you're on the cusp of being an NFL player. You're kinda in and out of teams, so this isn't totally new for me."
Yarbrough is taking a positive approach. He'll use the time to keep training so he's ready when football does return and he can take another crack at his NFL hopes, which are still very much alive.
"I'm using this time to really maximize all of my time and train and get back to where I can compete in the NFL."
It was 19 years between the XFL’s two campaigns, both of which ended in the league’s shutdown. The league’s first attempt happened in 2001, with both NBC and the WWE losing $35 million of their $100 million investments.
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