How Should the XFL Pay Its Players?

How Should the XFL Pay Its Players?

There will be changes with the new XFL ownership in place. There is no doubt about it. While signs show they are keeping some executives from the prior ownership (it has been roundly reported Jeffrey Pollack is staying on), clearly some things will be changing. One item that I am sure the new league will be reviewing is the player pay structure.

When announced, there was nothing more controversial in the public and media discussions of the new league than the league’s pay structure. While Oliver Luck hinted early on at a multi-tiered pay scale, this was later abolished, possibly from the demise of the competitor league Alliance of American Football (AAF). The final pay structure was a simple structure where quarterbacks got paid fairly well and everyone else was on a bonus-based system. Player base salaries were miniscule in the mid $30,000 area. Most of player salaries were based on various bonuses.  While Oliver Luck announced the average salary is expected to be around $50-55,000 the money was not guaranteed.

Many people argued against this type of pay scale and some players even decided not to play due to the potential of not making enough money, especially if they were on a losing team that did not get many win bonuses or if they got hurt (or can’t make the active gameday roster) and lost out on the bonus for being dressed for a game. The bottom line is that players who played on better teams and stayed active would get paid very well while others get paid very poorly.   While most players wanted to play for the opportunity, there was risk of injury for potentially very low pay. There are no doubts many players who opted out did so due to finding this unacceptable.

To me the pay scale is unfair and is based on principles I do not find to be true. First, the assumption is that players will play harder to get a bigger bonus. I do not agree. These players are mostly playing for opportunity and a chance to catch the eye of an NFL scout. Nobody is going to play in a lazy fashion and not give 100% as that would defeat the main reason the players are playing. Second, not paying players because they do not dress may result in players pushing themselves to play through injuries that can cause major long-term impacts. Not to mention, the rule punishes those who got hurt playing or practicing for a game. Guys should not be punished for putting in work and getting injured. Players should be encouraged to play and practice hard to get the best product. This “dressing” bonus can cause players to ease up and the league may not get the best out of them.  As a result, I find that the net result of the bonuses is likely to have the opposite impact on game quality than supposed.

The alternative to this bonus system is a simple flat base pay across the league not tied to bonuses and to provide bonuses based on individual effort. Quarterbacks will still need higher pay on their own due to the importance they bring to the field, but other players should be allowed to play without the extra stress of worrying about staying healthy to dress of to win. Removing this stress will result in better play as players will concentrate better on the actual game in play without having to stress and tighten up. Also, paying all non-quarterbacks the expected average removes the stigma of paying for no wage. Spending half a year for 50K with opportunities for more sounds a lot better than potential earning 30K. Less players will be scared away as they do not have to worry about the negative “what if” scenarios. The end result will be overall better talent who play better at game time.

Giving the league a set weekly payroll makes it easier to administer as well. Since the league knows what everyone will be paid there is less waiting and accounting to be done and reduces the amount of extra work that needs to be done on a weekly basis and makes it more cost effective on the backend as well. Less transactions and less waiting cut down the amount of time spent on making sure bonuses get issued to the correct people and cuts the number of transactions to get them bonuses. Do not discount this as it can save thousands of dollars weekly in administrative costs.

In the end, a flat pay model provides the league with less expenses and gets to keep players that are otherwise opting out. In order to give a better product to the athletes switching to a more predictive model for them would obviously reduce weekly worries and allow for them to better budget their own expenses. This is really a win-win for the players and the league. Switching models also reduces or removes the stigma of how little a player may make in the eyes of the media and some agents. Overall, you end up with a better product with better long-term player relations.