New league is not for all

Jan 30, 2001 7:41 AM

Saturday will be a red letter day in the history of American sports. It’s the day play begins in the XFL, wrestling major domo Vince McMahon’s concept of professional football.

The game will include all of the elements McMahon puts into his grappling extravaganza: sex, violence and lack of sportsmanship. The fair catch is outlawed, making punt returns more violent and leaving the kick returner more likely to suffer injury. That’s apparently of no concern to the games’ promoters. Excessive taunting and bizarre end zone celebration will be actually encouraged. The cheerleaders will offer more cheesecake than cheers.

Will the XFL be good football? No way. The playing personnel consists in the main of NFL castoffs and rejects.

Will the XFL be good entertainment? It all depends on one’s point of view. If you like Jerry Springer’s TV show, you’ll like the XFL.

Will the XFL succeed? Absolutely — both in attendance and TV ratings. McMahon has become wealthy by never losing sight of the fact that nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public. One of McMahon’s partners in the new league is NBC, so it now may be usefully remarked that NBC’s telecasts of football games range from the sublime (Notre Dame) to the ridiculous (XFL).

Sugar Plums

"And visions of sugar plums danced in their heads." That’s certainly the case with the 36 underclassmen who’ve declared for the April 21-22 NFL draft. They’re dreaming of fame and riches. Some will achieve their goals. Others will be disappointed. But the disappointments will not be as much as one would imagine. The NFL has an advisory panel that lets players know just how high they may expect to go in the draft. This is a move to counter some unscrupulous agents who fill players’ heads with unrealistic hopes.

The fact is, this NFL draft could be dominated by underclassmen, particularly in the first round. Among those who figure to be first rounders is Wisconsin running back Michael Bennett, Wisconsin cornerback Jamar Fletcher, North Carolina State receiver Koren Robinson, Missouri defensive end Justin Smith, Michigan wide receiver David Terrell, and Texas A&M running back Ja’mar Toombs. Actually, the first six or seven players selected could be underclassmen.

The big prize of the draft (and the first player to be selected) will be Virginia Tech sophomore quarterback Michael Vick. It remains to be seen if the San Diego Chargers, who have the first pick, will take Vick and build for the future around him or whether they will trade down and go for an experienced quarterback and immediate results.

Should they make a deal, the player they’d most likely go for would be St. Louis Rams back-up quarterback Trent Green. The Chargers’ new offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, had Green with the Redskins and is high on him. In any event, salary cap considerations will force the Rams to trade Green.

A quarterback who would have been a high selection a year ago is Georgia’s Quincy Carter. But he had an injury-plagued and generally disappointing season. His stock has fallen considerably. In fact, had he chosen to stay in college, he might not even have been first string for the Bulldogs. The same can be said for Louisiana State’s Josh Booty. Sugarplums do not appear to be in the offing for either.

Filling the Gaps

While some college players depart for the pros, others are coming in to fill the gaps. Next Wednesday, Feb. 7, is the first day high school players can sign the national letter of intent that binds them to the college of their choice. So you can look for the recruiting gurus to be out in full force, evaluating which schools did well and which did not. It’s good fodder for the media, but essentially meaningless. There’s a definite pecking order in college football recruiting. The usual suspects — the teams that dominate the polls and bowls — will get most of the blue chip players. Success breeds success.

Raising the Ante

The NFL’s Arizona Cardinals had only three wins this past season, so they rewarded their fans by raising ticket prices for next season. Loge and luxury seats will jump by $10 to $20 per game. All other seats in their stadium will cost $5 more.