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XFL suspends operations, Vipers disbanded

The startup league was forced to cancel half its first season because of COVID-19, but had remained focused on a 2021 return.
Tampa Bay Vipers quarterback Taylor Cornelius loads up for a pass during the XFL home opener against the Houston Roughnecks on Feb. 22 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
Tampa Bay Vipers quarterback Taylor Cornelius loads up for a pass during the XFL home opener against the Houston Roughnecks on Feb. 22 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Apr. 10, 2020
Updated Apr. 10, 2020

TAMPA — After one incomplete season, the XFL on Friday suspended operations and terminated nearly all its league and team employees.

The sudden end of the second coming of the WWE-financed professional football league, which included the Tampa Bay Vipers, came as a surprise, especially because the league made clear its intention to return for 2021 after it canceled the final five games of its 10-week regular season March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

At noon Friday, league and team personnel were told of their dismissals on a conference call that included coaching staffs and football operations personnel from each of the eight teams. Players were not on the call.

There was no mention of reviving the league in 2021.

Marc Trestman, head coach and general manager of the Tampa Bay Vipers, center, leaves the field at the conclusion of the home opener.
Marc Trestman, head coach and general manager of the Tampa Bay Vipers, center, leaves the field at the conclusion of the home opener. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

There was no official statement from the XFL. It did post this on its Twitter account Friday afternoon.

A skeleton staff will reportedly resume working at the league headquarters in Stamford, Conn.

Players and coaches received paychecks Friday that included accrued vacation and overtime owed. The league initially promised to pay players through the end of the season. This would have been the final weekend of the regular season.

Starting Vipers center Jordan McCray confirmed that players received an email from the league Friday morning.

“The whole situation does really suck for everyone,” he said in a message to the Tampa Bay Times on social media. “But I’m just working out now hoping for another opportunity to play elsewhere or hoping the XFL does somehow come back.”

The Vipers’ staff was operating as usual Thursday. Within an hour of Friday’s conference call, team personnel could no longer access their email accounts.

Shortly after news broke that the league was ceasing operation, the Vipers’ Twitter account sent out this tweet.

Bailey Carlin, the XFL’s social media editor, posted on Twitter: “The thing I am most upset about is my email and Slack account were immediately terminated and I didn’t get the chance to even have a virtual goodbye with my pals.”

In 2001, the WWE and NBC collaborated to create the first XFL, also an eight-team league. After NBC pulled out of its broadcast contract for a second season, the league folded three months after its inaugural game. Both parties lost $35 million.

The second version of the XFL, started its season Feb. 8 and had a strong beginning, with solid national and local TV ratings as fans were intrigued by innovative rule changes and broadcast adjustments. Among those were special teams rules that prevented players from running until the ball was caught by a returner or hit the ground; live audio as play calls were relayed from the sideline, and a closer look at the replay review process from inside the booth.

It wasn't much of a happy homecoming for former USF quarterback Quinton Flowers this XFL season at Raymond James Stadium.
It wasn't much of a happy homecoming for former USF quarterback Quinton Flowers this XFL season at Raymond James Stadium. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

The Vipers lost their first three games and finished 1-4. They won their only game at home March 1, 25-0 over the D.C. Defenders. Despite having the top defense and the top running game in the league, the Vipers struggled to put together all three facets of the game.

Coach Marc Trestman was criticized for not playing former USF star and local fan favorite Quinton Flowers more at quarterback. Flowers left the team for a week, frustrated with diminishing playing time, and returned for a Week 5 loss in Los Angeles, which turned out to be the Vipers’ final game.

As of Friday afternoon, the Vipers website was still advertising tickets for the 2021 season. When the league canceled the remaining games in 2020, ticket holders were given the option of receiving refunds or credit toward future games.

No one in the ticket box office could be reached for comment.

Times staff writer Mari Faiello contributed to this report. Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.