What would a real-life Spencer Strasmore do if he owned an entire league? In the new XFL, we may very well find out.
One of the running themes in the initial coverage of the XFL sale was the connection to HBO’s Ballers series. As pointed out by so many, The XFL’s purchase has the feel of being the main storyline in season six of the show, had the series not concluded back in the fall of 2019.
Dany Garcia, Gerry Cardinale, and RedBird Capital are a part of the new ownership group, but the person with all the attention focused on is Dwayne Johnson. Understandably so, ‘The Rock’ is Hollywood’s highest-paid actor and a beloved figure by the masses in both sports and entertainment.
League President Jeffrey Pollack called the XFL sale a “Hollywood Ending.” Some people took issue with the statement. After all, there was hardship and uncertainty incurred by the league folding. Hundreds saw their dreams ended when they lost their jobs. For many, the hope is that those jobs return.
-Jeffrey Pollack XFL COO-
” We are grateful for today’s outcome,” “This is a Hollywood ending to our sale process, and it is an exciting new chapter for the league. Dwayne, Dany, and Gerry are a dream team ownership group, and the XFL is in the best possible hands going forward.”
Upon further inspection, However, Pollack’s words ring true in so many ways. The XFL, a young emerging league, was put on the brink of extinction because of an unforeseen pandemic. Only to be saved at the final hour. Dwayne Johnson has done some heroic things in the ring and on the big screen but for XFL supporters. The Rock swooping in (with others) to save the day is his most heroic achievement.
Dany Garcia, Gerry Cardinale, and RedBird Capital are also heroes in this story. RedBird’s expertise in doing business with sports leagues and Garcia’s Hollywood ties and experience will be an asset to the new XFL.
XFL 3.0 will not be your standard pro sports league. In presentation or layout. Much like the TV show Ballers, the league figures to take you behind the scenes with its players, coaches, and executives, in ways that others haven’t before. The unprecedented access will be similar to what fans saw during XFL games.
Still, it’s hard not to look at the connection between Dwayne Johnson’s fictionalized portrayal of Spencer Strasmore as a sports management heavyweight and his new real-life role as part-owner of a pro football league.
Strasmore, played by the Rock, was a hardheaded character with flaws, but his driving force was being an agent of change for football players and the sports landscape. Strasmore was continually challenging the system.
The NCAA’s portrayal in ‘Ballers’ wasn’t in the most favorable light. One of the most significant storylines in Ballers was Spencer Strasmore mentoring a top high school football recruit named Quincy. (played by Eli Goree)
Strasmore takes control of Quincy’s recruitment and tries to leverage it towards acquiring a media rights deal. The whole college recruiting subplot played loosely with aspects of realism. But the overall theme of challenging the practices of college sports to benefit athletes holds merit.
The time has come for life to imitate art. The NCAA needs to implement changes that result in real progress for college athletes. The changes would come in the form of players receiving compensation or the power to influence decisions that affect them.
If the NCAA is unwilling to make changes to compensate their athletes for the use of their likeness or allow them to unionize. Then the XFL can help change the system for them.
The XFL started the process of creating an avenue for college football players last year when West Virginia Safety Kenny Robinson opted out of the transfer portal and right onto the St. Louis BattleHawks roster. Months later, after being compensated for playing in the XFL. The Carolina Panthers drafted Robinson in the fifth round of this year’s draft. The league’s strategy and the concept worked.
XFL 3.0 needs to take it a step further in its recruitment of college football players. The XFL doesn’t need to start a full-scale raid of college football talent, but the league does need to explore it in more depth than it did last year. The XFL created that option for college players. It’s time to take it to the next level. The not too distant future could see the league eventually signing high school graduates to pro contracts.
Will and should the XFL take this bold approach?
The original XFL back in 2001, was extremely brave. It mocked and ridiculed the NFL. To its ultimate detriment.
XFL 2.0 worked so hard to avoid being an enemy of the state. They didn’t want to follow the same steps or mantra that the original XFL took. The idea was to be a compliment to the existing football ecosystem.
Leagues like the XFL that have popped up in the past have been labeled as challengers to the NFL. Maybe it’s not the NFL that these leagues should be challenging after all. If life imitates art in the new XFL. The league could follow the Ballers model and capitalize on the opportunity to challenge college football.
To borrow a quote from The Rock. “When you walk up to opportunity’s door, don’t knock it. Kick that bitch in, smile, and introduce yourself.”