Feb 7, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Happy Friday! Let's sports.

Today's word count: 1,789 words (7 minutes).

1 big thing: 🏈 XFL 2.0

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A reboot of one of America's most infamous sports leagues kicks off this weekend, with billionaire wrestling mogul Vince McMahon betting once more that football fans are hungry for more football.

What they're saying: Whereas the old XFL leaned on gimmicks and stunts when it first launched (and failed) 19 years ago, the new XFL is presenting itself as a league focused entirely on quality of play and the on-field product.

  • "Aside from the name, there is nothing in common that we will have with the league in 2001," commissioner Oliver Luck told NYT.
  • "[The old XFL] was a lot of fun ... but it wasn't presented on television as real football," said Tom Luginbill, who coached one of the original teams and will broadcast games for ESPN. Now, it's "football and football only," he said. "There's no gimmicks."

What to know...

1. The teams: The XFL will have eight teams in 2020, divided into two divisions. Washington, New York, St. Louis and Tampa Bay are in the East division, while Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and Seattle are in the West.

  • Dallas Renegades: HC Bob Stoops, QB Landry Jones, RB Cameron Artis-Payne
  • DC Defenders: HC Pep Hamilton, QB Cardale Jones
  • Houston Roughnecks: HC June Jones, QB P.J. Walker, WR Sammie Coates
  • Los Angeles Wildcats: HC Winston Moss, QB Josh Johnson, RB Elijah Hood
  • New York Guardians: HC Kevin Gilbride, QB Matt McGloin
  • Seattle Dragons: HC Jim Zorn, QB Brandon Silvers
  • St. Louis BattleHawks: HC Jonathan Hayes, QB Jordan Ta'amu, RB Christine Michael
  • Tampa Bay Vipers: HC Marc Trestman, QB Aaron Murray, RB De'Veon Smith

2. The rules: The XFL is marketing itself as a faster version of the NFL and has publicly stated that it wants games to be played in under three hours.

  • No extra point after TD: Instead, teams can go for one, two or three points by running a play from either the two, five or 10-yard-line, respectively.
  • Multiple forward passes: Teams can throw two forward passes on the same play as long as both happen behind the line of scrimmage.
  • Reinvented kickoffs: In an attempt to increase the amount of returns while also making them safer, only the kicker and receiver can move before the ball is caught.
  • OT is a shootout: If regulation ends in a tie, both teams run five plays from the five-yard line and get a point for each score and a point for each defensive stop. The team with the most points at the end of the "shootout" wins.
  • One foot inbounds: To record a catch, receivers only need one foot — or any other part of their body — to touch the ground in bounds, rather than the two feet needed in the NFL.
  • No replay challenges: All reviews are initiated by a replay official.
  • Running clock: The clock doesn't stop outside of the final two minutes of each half.
  • Shorter play clock: 25 seconds, instead of the NFL's 40.
  • Fewer timeouts: Two per half, instead of the NFL's three.

3. Season format: Teams will play a 10-game schedule with five home and away games (no bye week). The top two teams in each division will face each other in a one-game division championship (April 18–19), followed by the league championship game (April 26).

4. TV coverage: Thanks to deals with ESPN/ABC and Fox, the XFL is much better positioned than the AAF, which debuted with strong ratings on CBS last year but faded when games moved to smaller platforms (and then imploded).

5. Sports betting: Unlike the NFL, the XFL will allow its broadcasters to openly talk about betting lines, and they will be show on-screen during telecasts. Meanwhile, on the radio, the league has partnered with VSiN (Vegas Stats & Information Network) and iHeartRadio to create audio "BetCasts," which will cover live games through a wagering lens.

The bottom line: When the XFL debuted at the turn of the century, sports fandom was much more regional, Facebook and Twitter hadn't even been invented yet and sports betting was illegal outside of Nevada. Two decades later, the landscape has completely changed — and so has the XFL's approach.

Bonus: 📆 Full XFL schedule
Screenshot: XFL.com

This weekend...

  • Saturday: Seattle Dragons at DC Defenders (2pm ET, ABC); Los Angeles Wildcats at Houston Roughnecks (5pm ET, Fox)
  • Sunday: Tampa Bay Vipers at New York Guardians (2pm ET, Fox); St. Louis BattleHawks at Dallas Renegades (5pm ET, ESPN)
2. ⚾️ With Cohen deal off, Mets to seek new buyer

Mets COO Jeff Wilpon (left) and board chairman and CEO Fred Wilpon. Photo: Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The Mets released a statement last night saying they intend to find another buyer after the proposed sale to hedge fund manager Steve Cohen, who currently has an 8% stake in the team, fell apart.

What they're saying:

  • Mets: "Despite the efforts of the parties over the past several months, it became apparent that the transaction as contemplated would have been too difficult to execute."
  • Cohen: "I'm very disappointed we couldn't work out a deal, but as an 8% holder I'm looking forward to a higher bid for the team. ... I gave it my best shot."

Between the lines: The deal included a provision that would have allowed Fred Wilpon, the Mets' managing owner, and his son, Jeff, the team's COO, to remain in their roles for five years after the completion of the sale.

  • It was that provision that largely resulted in the talks falling apart, sources told NYT, with Cohen believing the Wilpons would play largely ceremonial roles, while the Wilpons wanted to continue to be actively involved.

But, but, but: MLB commissioner Rob Manfred push backed against reports blaming the Wilpons, saying that "the assertion that the transaction fell apart because of something that the Wilpons did is completely and utterly unfair."

P.S. ... Speaking of dysfunctional New York sports franchises, NBA agent Leon Rose is expected to be the next Knicks president.

3. 🎓 College athletes by gender: 1988-2019
Expand chart
Reproduced from NCAA Research; Chart: Axios Visuals

Stat of the day: There are 128,000 more women participating in NCAA athletics today than 30 years ago.

4. 🏀 NBA trade deadline: All the moves

D'Angelo Russell is now a Timberwolf. Photo: Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The NBA trade deadline is officially in the books, with a flurry of activity resulting in the top two picks from the 2015 draft joining forces, the Clippers beating out the Lakers for Marcus Morris and the Cavs acquiring Andre Drummond for a bag of peanuts, among other moves.

East
  • 76ers — In: Alec Burks, Glenn Robinson Jr. // Out: 2020 second-round pick, 2021 second-round pick, 2022 second-round pick
  • Cavaliers — In: Andre Drummond // Out: Brandon Knight, John Henson, 2023 second-round pick
  • Hawks — In: Clint Capela, Dewayne Dedmon, Skal Labissière, Derrick Walton Jr., 2020 second-round pick, 2021 second-round pick // Out: 2020 first-round pick, Jabari Parker, Alex Len, 2024 second-round pick, Evan Turner, Chandler Parsons (waived),
  • Heat — In: Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder, Solomon Hill // Out: Justise Winslow, James Johnson, Dion Waiters
  • Knicks — In: 2020 first-round pick, Moe Harkless, 2021 first-round pick swap option (Clippers), 2020 second-round pick, rights to Issuf Sanon // Out: Marcus Morris
  • Magic — In: James Ennis // Out: 2020 second-round pick
  • Pistons — In: Brandon Knight, John Henson, 2023 second-round pick // Out: Andre Drummond, Tim Frazier (waived)
  • Wizards — In: Shabazz Napier, Jerome Robinson // Out: Jordan McRae, Isaiah Thomas, rights to Issuf Sanon
West
  • Clippers — In: Marcus Morris, Isaiah Thomas, 2022 second-round pick // Out: Moe Harkless, 2020 first-round pick, 2021 first-round pick swap option (Knicks), 2021 second-round pick, Jerome Robinson, Derrick Walton Jr.
  • Grizzlies — In: Justise Winslow, Gorgui Dieng, Dion Waiters, Jordan Bell, 2023 second-round pick, 2023 second-round pick // Out: Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder, Solomon Hill, Bruno Caboclo
  • Kings — In: Jabari Parker, Alex Len // Dewayne Dedmon, 2020 second-round pick, 2021 second-round pick
  • Mavericks — In: Willie Cauley-Stein // Out: 2020 second-round pick
  • Nuggets — In: 2020 first-round pick, Jordan McRae, Keita Bates-Diop, Gerald Green, Noah Vonleh // Out: Malik Beasley, Juan Hernangómez, Jarred Vanderbilt
  • Rockets — In: Robert Covington, Bruno Caboclo, 2024 second-round pick // Out: Clint Capela, 2020 first-round pick, Gerald Green
  • Timberwolves — In: D'Angelo Russell, 2020 first-round pick (lottery protected), Malik Beasley, James Johnson, Juan Hernangómez, Evan Turner, Jarred Vanderbilt // Out: Andrew Wiggins, 2021 first-round pick (top-three protected), Robert Covington, Jordan Bell, Gorgui Dieng, Shabazz Napier, Keita Bates-Diop, Noah Vonleh
  • Trail Blazers — In: Cap space // Out: Skal Labissière
  • Warriors — In: Andrew Wiggins, 2021 first-round pick (top three protected), two 2020 second-round picks, 2021 second-round pick, 2022 second-round pick // Out: D'Angelo Russell, Jacob Evans, Omari Spellman, Willie Cauley-Stein, Glenn Robinson III, Alec Burks
5.  📊 By the numbers
Photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images
  • 🏀 11th time in 110 seasons: With a record of 10-12, North Carolina is on track to post just the 11th losing campaign in the program's 110-season history and the third since the early 1960s. ... Next up: No. 7 Duke (Saturday, 6pm ET)
  • 🥎 Six years later: Remember Mo'ne Davis, the 12-year-old girl who dominated the Little League World Series six years ago? She's a freshman at Hampton University now and is about to start her college softball career.
  • ⚽️ $11.64 million: MLS and the MLS Players Association reached an agreement on a new CBA yesterday that will see the spending power per club increase from $8.49 million in 2019 to $11.64 million in 2024.
5. 📸 Yesterday in photos
Photo: Xavier Bonilla/NurPhoto via Getty Images

BILBAO, Spain — Two days after Lionel Messi (above) spoke out against Barcelona sporting director Eric Abidal, the club suffered a shocking 1-0 defeat at Athletic Bilbao that eliminated them from the Copa Del Rey. Rough week.

Photo: Joel Auerbach/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Golden Knights erupted for a season-high seven goals against the Panthers to help Marc-Andre Fleury (above) move into sole possession of fifth-place on the NHL's all-time regular-season wins list.

Photo: Harry How/Getty Images

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Bill Murray (above), Tony Romo, Wayne Gretzky, Justin Verlander and Eli Manning are among the celebrities participating in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

7. Feb. 7, 2010: 🏈 Saints win Super Bowl XLIV

Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

10 years ago today, Drew Brees, Pierre Thomas and the Saints beat Peyton Manning, Joseph Addai and the Colts, 31-17, in Super Bowl XLIV (highlights).

"Four years ago, who ever thought this would be happening when 85% of the city was under water? Most people left not knowing if New Orleans would ever come back, or if the organization would ever come back. We just all looked at one another and said, 'We are going to rebuild together. We are going to lean on each other.' This is the culmination in all that belief."
— Drew Brees

Game notes:

8. The Ocho: 🏉 Major League Rugby is here

Vetekina Malafu of Old Glory DC scores a try in an exhibition match against Navy last month. Photo: Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

Major League Rugby kicks off its third season this weekend, with all 12 teams in action across North America.

What to watch: Three expansion teams — Old Glory DC, Rugby ATL (Atlanta) and New England Freejacks — will be making their debut, along with some impressive global talent.

  • Tendai Mtawarira, who helped South Africa capture the 2019 World Cup title, has joined Old Glory DC.
  • Ma'a Nonu, who helped the New Zealand All-Blacks capture the 2011 and 2015 World Cup crowns, has joined the San Diego Legion.
  • Rene Ranger, who played for the All-Blacks from 2010 to 2013, has joined the Colorado Raptors.

Weekend slate (full schedule):

  • Saturday: Colorado Raptors at Houston SaberCats; Old Glory DC at NOLA Gold
  • Sunday: Utah Warriors at Rugby ATL; Rugby United NY at New England Free Jacks; Seattle Seawolves (two-time defending champs) at San Diego Legion; Toronto Arrows at Austin Gilgronis
9. 🏀 NBA trivia
Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Russell Westbrook scored 41 points in the Rockets' 121-111 win over the Lakers last night, becoming the 46th player in NBA history to reach 20,000 career points.

  • Question: Westbrook is one of three UCLA players to reach that milestone. Can you name the other two?
  • Hint: One was a big man, one was a shooter.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 👑 King James
Screenshot: @NBA (Twitter)

Iconic.

Kendall Baker

Enjoy the weekend!

Kendall "What an ad for NBATickets.com" Baker

Trivia answer: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Reggie Miller