The game looks familiar, even if the players aren't.
The 49ers' loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV marked the conclusion of the NFL season, but not football altogether. Within the week, the XFL returned from a two-decade absence, as Saturday marked the beginning of the league's reincarnation.
The XFL of 2020 is not what it was back in 2001. Player nicknames no longer appear on jersey nameplates, and there is more of a focus on the actual game itself. Still, there are many unique elements that serve to differentiate the XFL from the NFL, and from a financial perspective, the league believes it's now much more viable than it was back in 2001, when it folded after just a single season. XFL commissioner Oliver -- and father of former Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew -- Luck offered three explanations as to why he feels that way when speaking with NPR's Michel Martin on Saturday, including better funding, exposure and players.
The XFL approached former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick about joining and starring in the new league, but according to Luck, Kaepernick's salary demands ruled out that possibility.
"We gave it some thought," Luck told Martin. "We have some pretty significant salary restrictions, you know. We're a start-up league, so we want to make sure that we can be fiscally responsible and fiscally prudent. And the, you know, salary requirements that some folks, you know, shared with us were in our case exorbitant, so we, you know, couldn't go down that path."
"We spoke with his representative," Luck continued, "and the salary requirements that were broached in that conversation were exorbitant and certainly out of our range."
When asked if the XFL would reconsider its stance on Kaepernick if he lowered his salary demands, Luck was noncommittal.
"I don't know," Luck said. "That was well over a year ago, so I don't know what kind of shape, you know, Colin is in. And, you know, we haven't followed that because obviously, again, we want the best players who are interested in playing in our league. That's, you know, pretty much a requisite for our job."
While no one could blame the XFL for trying to be fiscally responsible, Luck's last comment seemed unrelated to any financial hurdles associated with bringing Kaepernick into the fold. The XFL requires all of its players to stand for the national anthem, and Luck sure doesn't sound like he supports Kaepernick's chosen methods of protest in the past.
"Players have numerous opportunities to express themselves with all the platforms that exist today," Luck said. "So, you know, standing for the national anthem we believe is a part of their responsibility as players in our league. But we think it's important to have that -- you know, that requirement for our players."
When pressed as to why Luck feels it's important to have that requirement, he doubled down on generalizations.
"We think it's important. We think it's part of what we as a league should do."
If the XFL can't afford Kaepernick, then his absence from the league is simply the result of financial prudence. But if Kaepernick's social reputation is figuring into it and causing the XFL to avoid such a partnership, it sure seems like a gigantic missed opportunity. If anything, one would think the XFL should be leaning into all of the different ways it could distinguish itself from its much larger, much more established competitor.