The XFL will make its return a month from tomorrow. It originally existed for just one year in 2001 before closing its doors due to a financial loss, but the league’s backer, Vince McMahon, has vowed to remain steadfast through a slow transitional opening, already withdrawing funds out of his own resources to carry the league through its first few seasons. The hope is, by then, that it will have gained enough of a foothold to have become sustainable on its own.
Even under the best of circumstances, that has proven to be an incredibly difficult task. Even the long-running Arena Football League finally closed its doors, and the CFL, in recent years, has scaled back some. There hasn’t been a viable new league to emerge in quite some time.
In order for the XFL to finally buck the trend, it must immediately establish itself as credible at every level, not just in terms of the on-field level of play, but in how it’s presented—and even officiated. To that end, the league has reportedly brought on board Dean Blandino, the league’s former head of officiating in between Mike Pereira and the current Al Riveron, to serve in the same capacity.
Blandino had worked in the NFL as a full-time employee as early as 1994. He was integral to implementing replay in 1999, overseeing the program for the first six years. He briefly left the NFL in 2009, but returned in 2012 to take over the head officiating role. He surprisingly left ahead of the 2017 season, marking the beginning of the contentious Riveron era.
That transition coincided with the NFL instituting a new rule that required all booth reviews to be determined by the head of officiating, rather than from the on-field official. This was intended to create a greater level of consistency in the ruling, but it merely placed greater scrutiny on any deviations. Riveron is about as unpopular as Commissioner Roger Goodell at this point.
Blandino, however, had always been in relatively good standing, and his respected status was seemingly part of the reason that the league was willing to put the power of replay rulings in the hands of his post. Then he suddenly left.
Since then, he has worked for Fox Sports as a rules analyst, though he has also been the director of instant replay for the NCAA since 2018, albeit in an offseason capacity.
Prior to his agreeing to work with the XFL, Blandino also served as an officiating consultant to the Alliance of American Football, another upstart league that failed to complete its first season in 2019, closing its doors without even reaching postseason play.
His addition, as well as the involvement of Oliver Luck, helps to lend some credibility and seriousness to the XFL’s endeavors, but the best chance the league has of surviving is by putting together a strong product that draws both ratings and investors. And right now, Landry Jones is one of their biggest names.