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Former XFL player Shinzo Yamada optimistic about relaunch

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Former linebacker and defensive back Shinzo Yamada says that he is fond of the plan to relaunch the XFL, because it could serve as a window for international players, including his compatriots.

Last week, World Wrestling Entertainment chairman Vince McMahon announced that the football league would return in 2020, and many are skeptical about it.

But Yamada, who competed for the Memphis Maniax in 2001, has high expectations for the revived XFL, saying it is “a great thing.”

Yamada, a longtime head coach for the IBM Big Blue of Japan’s X League, knows that there are a lot of obstacles to launch a new professional football circuit, but believes that the reborn XFL will have success.

During its first incarnation, the XFL had a disastrous run. It was in a partnership with NBC, but ended up losing $35 million through the inaugural season and folded after only one year.

The 44-year-old Yamada thinks that in today’s digital era, the XFL does not have to rely on a big broadcasting enterprise as much as it did in its original form.

“I used to be in the league myself, and understand what its structures are and all that,” Yamada told The Japan Times during the Japan Coaches’ Awards ceremony in Tokyo last week. “I think that the league will evolve further. There was the NBC partnering (for the XFL) previously, but now the time has changed and I think that they market themselves by creating their own digital platforms.

“In terms of those videos and stuff, they might be able to do things that the NFL hasn’t done. So I have great expectations for them.”

Yamada, who spent part of his childhood living in Memphis, cited the example of the proactive usage of SkyCam, a camera hung above the field by the XFL which the NFL later adopted for its broadcast coverage.

The XFL was originally structured as a single entity. The league owned the teams and signed all the players. The players earned a maximum salary of $5,000, with a $1,000 bonus for each victory. Yamada described the operation as “very practical.”

Yamada, who helped Kwansei Gakuin University to the Koshien Bowl national championship in 1999 and later played in the X League and now-defunct NFL Europe, insisted that his experience competing in the XFL has actually helped his current job off the gridiron as well.

He is serving as a sports administrator for the University of Tsukuba, which will establish an athletic department this spring.

Japan, meanwhile, is working to set up a national college sports governing body, with the NCAA in the United States as a model. Collegiate sports clubs here are operated independently, outside of the umbrella of their respective universities.

So the Japan Sports Agency and some universities, including Tsukuba, have worked to channel sports into a more legitimate presence, giving the athletes proper insurance and the teams necessary budgets.

“I saw some of the essence of sports business, good and bad,” Yamada said of his time in the XFL. “And it was genuinely a valuable experience for me doing the athletic department things now.”

Working as a development committee member for the Japan American Football Association, Yamada is also excited that the XFL could provide opportunities for Japanese players. He encourages his compatriots to challenge for jobs in the league if the doors are open, and he wants to help them out as an administrator.

“I would like to ask (the XFL) to make some spots for international players, even if it’s just one,” said Yamada, who recorded five tackles while with the Manix.

Yamada added that the JAFA sent a proposal for giving some spots for international players when the United States Football League came back in 2008 as a spring minor league. He said that he wants to do the same for the XFL as well.

“If you have just one (international) player, you can get so many people (of the player’s country) involved,” Yamada said. “I think there’s ample potential there.”

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