SN Q&A: XFL commissioner Oliver Luck talks early TV ratings, QB play, expansion and more

XFL commissioner Oliver Luck is pleased with the overall state of the XFL through the first three weeks of its existence, but realizes there’s always room for improvement.

Luck spoke with Sporting News Thursday in a phone interview and discussed a number of topics in the league. He talked about the TV ratings so far, people who have been critical of the quarterback play, potential expansion in the future and more.

Luck also discussed how the rule changes have been received so far, including the dramatic change to kickoffs and punts. The XFL commissioner declined to go in depth on recent comments made by Johnny Manziel and Tim Tebow regarding playing in the XFL, saying he’ll only discuss players who are actually in the league.

“We very much like the quarterbacks that we have,” Luck said when asked about Manziel. “They’re working hard every day in practice.”

Sporting News’ full discussion with Luck is below.

On the XFL’s TV ratings

XFL TV ratings for Weeks 1-3

Luck: “The ratings are obviously important, but quite honestly we don’t spend that much time with them because we believe that if we can play good football, if we play at a high level, everything will fall in place, the ratings, the attendance, all of the things that are important on the business side.”

Early feedback on XFL rules

XFL kickoff compared to NFL

Pace of Play

Luck: “I think by and large [the response to the rule changes have] been very, very positive. We’ve played 12 games so the sample size is somewhat small, but we’re getting enough data now.

“The players love it, they love the up-tempo game, they really enjoy playing fast, they enjoy the 25-second clock even if it sometimes pushes the boundaries of their physical fitness. I think the kickoff has definitely been well received by the guys. I think they all were excited around the league after the first kickoff that went back for a touchdown. That was pretty cool.

“I think generally speaking the rules have been well received. We do a lot of follow up in terms of looking at the metrics, how long was the game, how many plays, etc. I think by and large we’re where we want to be with all of those data points.” 

On potential rule changes for Year 2

Luck: “I think we would kick around [some ideas] in the offseason a little bit. We’re gonna just watch what we’re doing now, see how it plays out and make sure we get a lot of good feedback from players, coaches, and communicate with our fans as well. Because a lot of these rules changes initially came from suggestions from fans who wanted a faster game and wanted to see more punt returns and more kickoff returns. So I think we’ll wait until the end of the season to really look at that. Take a deep dive into what we’ve done and see what else could be done.”

On sideline interviews during games

Luck: “I think everybody really enjoys that part of the game. I think it’s safe to say that it is different for the coaches, they had to adapt to it. We practiced a good bit in December and January with those headsets, and the ability for the broadcasters to tap in. So the coaches were aware of it, but the first time it happens there’s a little bit of a sense of, ‘Oh wow, I guess it really does happen. Interesting.’ But what we really like is that fans were really excited about that. It gives a level of access that you don’t necessarily get with any other football broadcast.”

On BattleHawks attendance

(Getty Images)

BattleHawks fans in St. Louis”>

Luck: “The biggest moment for me was quite honestly just to see the St. Louis crowd. (It was) their first pro football game in St. Louis in 4-5 years, and just the passion that those folks have. That was very impressive. We knew what we were getting by putting a team there, but it’s still — to see it, they’ve got a good football team. Jonathan Hayes, their football coach, has really done a great job. But to see the excitement, the passion of 30,000 people. The dome was rocking, downtown with tailgates. That was special.” 

On criticism of quarterback play

Note: I brought up ProFootballTalk’s column, headlined “Bad quarterbacks a big problem for the XFL,” as an example of some criticism the league has faced.

Luck: “Quarterback play is important for every level of football. If bad quarterback play is damaging to the XFL, I think it’s damaging to any league at any level. I think our quarterback play by and large has been pretty good. We had two of our better quarterbacks that weren’t able to play in Week 1 [Landry Jones, Josh Johnson]. They both came back Week 2, and as you saw this past weekend, they’re both healthy and playing well. We’ve got some younger guys that have really stepped up. I don’t think anybody expected P.J. Walker or Jordan Ta’amu to have the seasons that they’re having right now.

“It’s still young. It’s all brand new teams. It’s hard to play quarterback in professional football. These guys have great skill sets. We all watched them play in college. We’ve got improvements, no question about it, but overall I think the quarterback play is going to get better. I’ve been more or less satisfied with where it is today.”

BENDER: Hey, XFL, your next franchises are watching with great interest in Ohio

On NFL teams’ interest in XFL players

Luck: “[Coaches] haven’t reached out to me, but I know from the daily goings on that scouts are watching these games closely. Attending many of our games, watching film on these guys. A lot of these guys have spent time in the league, so these NFL teams will know them relatively well. But there’s a brisk interest in a lot of players in our league from other professional leagues.”

On potential XFL expansion

Luck: “We are 100% focused on the teams we have now. We want to make sure they’re established and build a strong foundation, have a strong profile, have a lot of relevancy in that community. So we haven’t really had any serious discussions about expansion. That’s certainly a possibility, but it’s way down the road.”

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