XFL becomes latest sports league to suspend play due to coronavirus
The XFL announced Thursday that it has indefinitely suspended its inaugural season after five games due to the coronavirus outbreak, but plans to return in 2021.
The league had originally scheduled a 10-week season, followed by two playoff games and a championship game on April 26.
"Currently, the XFL will not be playing its regular-season games," the league said in a statement. "However, all players will be paid their base pay and benefits for the 2020 regular season. All XFL ticket holders will be issued refunds or credit toward future games. The XFL is committed to playing a full season in 2021 and future years."
The XFL was among the last professional sports leagues in the U.S. to act Thursday, waiting until well into the evening to announce its plans. To that point, it had indicated only that one of its games between Los Angeles and Seattle would be played in an empty stadium due to a Washington state government mandate.
The fledgling eight-team league faced a unique conundrum as it weighed its decision. While other pro leagues have built up dedicated fan bases over the years, the XFL was still trying to grow — which made the notion of continuing to play, and thereby dominating the world of live sports, an enticing one.
Ultimately, though, the XFL decided to err on the side of caution.
Its decision followed a wave of similar moves across pro and college sports over a span of 24 hours.
The changes started Wednesday afternoon, when the NCAA announced it would hold March Madness games without fans, and accelerated later that night, after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert was preliminarily diagnosed with coronavirus — leading the NBA to suspend its season indefinitely.
Earlier Thursday, the NHL and MLS paused their seasons, while MLB canceled the remainder of spring training and delayed Opening Day. The NCAA also canceled its championship tournaments, including in men's and women's basketball. The PGA Tour said its events would continue without fans.
While the XFL expressed plans to return to play in 2021, challenges remain.
For one thing, XFL players joined the league on one-year contracts, which means there will likely be significant turnover on rosters ahead of a potential 2021 season. And players like Houston Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker, who was the closest thing the league had to a star player, could now leave and instead try to make it in the NFL.
The league will also have to deal with the financial ramifications of paying players for the half a season in which it will not receive any game-related revenue.
The XFL is now the second spring football league in as many years to halt play before reaching the conclusion of its season, albeit for fundamentally different reasons. The Alliance of American Football stopped play after eight games in 2019 due to financial issues.
Contact Tom Schad at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.