The outrage was immense when the XFL’s true fourth-best team, the St. Louis Battlehawks were left out of the playoffs because three teams in the XFL North Division finished 7-3 or better. Yet, the Battlehawks lost the tiebreaker to the Seattle Sea Dragons and spent the playoff weekend at home. Instead, the 4-6 Arlington Renegades got a postseason spot for being the South Division’s second-best team.
Surprisingly, we will face this again as the USFL as all four teams in the South Division have winning records, and no team in the North Division has a winning record. If the Panthers beat the Stars, both USFL North playoff teams will have 4-6 records.
All Sickos’ sentiments aside, this cannot be good for both leagues in the long run. College football has long realized divisions are obsolete as all but two FBS conferences still using them to determine conference championship participants. So why haven’t the USFL and XFL woken up to reality?
The good news is I have some solutions to this problem, with one for those that want to preserve divisions and one for those that want to enter a “Brave New World” of Spring Football without divisions.
Solution 1: Ditch Divisions
This is the simplest solution and what most of you came here to read. Geography should not determine the four best teams in both Spring Leagues. On-field results should. Divisions are great for collegiate and scholastic athletics to save money and form rivalries. However, for pro football leagues backed by The Rock, Dani Garcia, and TV networks divisions seem useless. They are even more useless when a league tries to manufacture rivalries between teams in Washington DC and Seattle, but I digress.
Both leagues can employ the same model they apply with their eight-team leagues by giving each team three geographic rivals to play twice a year and having each team play the other four teams once.
Both leagues would then restructure their playoffs The playoffs would include the four best teams in the league, regardless of location. This is best for both leagues on the surface (I’ll get to this later) as it creates more interesting matchups for TV.
Solution 2: Yearly Divisional Realignment
Remember when the WAC had 16 teams from 1996 to 1998? This solution is straight from that era but with elements of promotion and relegation. When the WAC had 16 teams and stretched from Houston to San Diego and Honolulu, the league employed four pods with four teams to craft two eight-team divisions.
In short, each division of the WAC had four permanent teams, with the other four teams in each division filled out by two four-team pods that switched between the two divisions every other year. For example, this is what the WAC looked like in 1996 compared to what it looked like after the pods changed.
The USFL can do something like this by switching the bottom two teams in each division and scrapping the “North” and “South” division names for names of USFL legends. One division can be the Jim Kelly Division for Gamblers’ great Jim Kelly and the other can be the Reggie White Division.
For the XFL, one division could be the Tommy Maddox Division and the other could be the PJ Walker Division.
As things stand after week nine, here is what the USFL’s two divisions would look like in 2024 under this idea:
Jim Kelly Division:
New Orleans Breakers
New Jersey Generals
Reggie White Division:
For the XFL, here is what 2024’s divisions would look like under this new proposal:
Tommy Maddox Division:
St. Louis Battlehawks
PJ Walker Division:
Seattle Sea Dragons
San Antonio Brahmas
The Gamblers and Showboats would be instant division favorites in this divisional format. It does not have to be the bottom two teams that get swapped, as swapping the #2 and #3 teams in each division could create more competitive parity.
Solution 3: Do Nothing At All
Maybe I wasted my time in writing this. What if there is no issue with divisions in the XFL and USFL? If the St. Louis Battlehawks made the playoffs over the Arlington Renegades, we do not get to enjoy a Cinderella run of a 6-6 team beating a 10-1 team for the title. We all know how much everyone loves an underdog story. I hate being cliche, but they do not play the games on paper.
Finally, the XFL’s rivalries were more genuine than the USFL’s manufactured rivalries. Having three teams in Texas made for fun rivalries. Also, unlike the USFL, the XFL has West Coast teams, so Vegas and Seattle playing for West Coast supremacy is great for the league.
In the end, both leagues may need to do something about their divisions to improve the quality of postseason play, but any change comes at the expense of potential underdog stories that are good for both leagues.
What are your thoughts on spring football divisions as they currently sit? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!