Dragons running back Ja’Quan Gardner carries the ball as theVipers’ Nikita Whitlock defends during an XFL game on Feb. 15, 2020, in Seattle. (Amanda Snyder/The Seattle Times via AP)

Dragons running back Ja’Quan Gardner carries the ball as theVipers’ Nikita Whitlock defends during an XFL game on Feb. 15, 2020, in Seattle. (Amanda Snyder/The Seattle Times via AP)

XFL suspends operations, future in doubt

ESPN reports the league won’t return, but Dragons coach Jim Zorn say he’s still hopeful.

By Bob Condotta / The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — The eight-team XFL spring football league, which included the Seattle Dragons, suspended operations and terminated all employees during a 10-minute conference call Friday, leading to widespread speculation that the league is done for good.

ESPN, which had a contract with the XFL to broadcast games, reported the league “currently has no plans to return” in 2021. In a statement to ESPN, the league said only: “Given the uncertainty of the current environment, the XFL has suspended operations and is evaluating next steps.” And XFL employees who took to social media to discuss the news did so appearing to assume this was the end for the league.

However, Dragons coach Jim Zorn told The Seattle Times that he had not been given any definitive word on the league’s future and he said for now he will continue to act as if the league will resume play at a later date.

“I hope it continues on and I think everybody does,” Zorn said. “Right now there is no real way to have an emotion about it. For me it’s just a matter of continuing to go plan as though we are going to continue.”

All team and league employees were informed of the news during a conference call Friday morning with league president Jeffrey Pollack, which Zorn said “was out of the blue.”

Pollack read a statement that did not include any specific word on if the league would try to continue at a later date, but also did not indicate employees would be re-hired later, and did not take questions.

One XFL player, linebacker Brian Peters of the Houston Roughnecks, posted to Twitter a notice from the league stating that all operations were “being discontinued” as of Friday and stated “All XFL employees” were being permanently laid off. “We are taking this action because of COVID-19-related business circumstances that were not reasonably forseeable.” The letter further stated that all work sites were being closed.

Zorn, though, said until he was told otherwise he was assuming he would still be the coach of the Dragons and was going to stay optimistic the league could return.

“I’m just going to plan on continuing to hope that there is another season ahead of us whenever that might be,” said Zorn, who played for the Seahawks from 1976-84 and is in the team’s Ring of Honor. “And I think I need to plan for that, although shutting down just means that there are a lot of people who can’t wait.”

The league, owned by Vince McMahon who also runs World Wrestling Entertainment, suspended its debut season on March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But at that time, a league statement said, “The XFL is committed to playing a full season in 2021 and future years.” And the Dragons website had continued to advertise tickets for the future.

When the league announced in March it was suspending its regular season it told players they would be paid through the end of the regular season. The regular season was scheduled to end with games this weekend. The league had then planned to have two weeks of playoffs culminating in a championship game April 26.

The Dragons were 1-4 at the time of the suspension, having played two games at CenturyLink Field, opening at home to much fanfare on Feb. 15 with a 17-9 win over Tampa Bay. The Dragons averaged 25,616 fans in their two home games, second-best in the league.

The team included players with local ties such as former UW and Skyline High star Kasen Williams, former Seahawks B.J. Daniels and Keenan Reynolds, Archbishop Murphy High School alum Taniela Tupou and Meadowdale High School alum Connor Hamlett.

“Everybody was excited about where we were headed and what we were doing and how we were going along,” Zorn said. “It was good.”

The XFL said after it suspended operations on March 12 that its players were now free to sign with NFL teams and a few have, notably quarterback P.J. Walker of Houston, who was pursued by the Seahawks but ultimately signed with the Carolina Panthers (the Seahawks have not yet signed anyone who had played in the XFL).

The current XFL was a reincarnated version of a league that played for one season in 2001, which McMahon had also been involved in. McMahon retained the rights to the name after it dissolved.

McMahon announced on Jan. 25, 2018, that the league would try it again in 2020 and Seattle — which had not been part of the original XFL — was awarded a team in December 2018.

The XFL was the second new football league in two years to try to carve out a niche playing in the spring. The Alliance of American Football began in 2019, but did not make it through a complete season.

McMahon, though, had pledged he was in it for the long haul, and initial reviews for the league were positive, especially some of its innovations such as point after touchdowns that could be tried for one, two or three points, as well as changes to kickoff rules.

The league had ample coverage on networks such as FOX and ESPN, telecasts that included another innovation of players and coaches being interviewed often during the games themselves.

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