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Thursday, March 1
XFL makes changes in the booth



NEW YORK – With XFL ratings sliding, the league is changing rules and plugging Hall of Famer Dick Butkus into one of this weekend's broadcasts.

The league said Thursday it has eliminated its version of the bump-and-run rule. The new rule mirrors the one used by the NFL, barring any contact between defensive players and offensive receivers from 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Previously, contact had been permitted down the field.

Butkus, director of football competition for the XFL, will replace Jerry "The King" Lawler on NBC's bonus coverage game, Birmingham at San Francisco. Butkus will work the game with Matt Vasgersian with a permanent replacement for Lawler to be selected next week. Saturday night's primetime game has the Los Angeles Xtreme playing the New York/New Jersey Hitmen.

Asked about the low ratings, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, who also provides color commentary for XFL games, said Thursday that the league probably "was overhyped ... but we'll plug on, we're a work in progress."

Last Saturday's game between New York/New Jersey and Chicago had the second-lowest audience ever for a primetime sports program, a 2.6 rating and a 5 share. That was down from the previous week's 3.1 rating and 6 share. The lowest-rated sports primetime program was Game 3 of the 2000 Stanley Cup finals on ABC, which had a 2.3 and 5 share.

The rating is the percentage of television households watching a program and each point represents about 1.01 million homes. The share is the percentage tuned in among those households with televisions in use at the time.

Ventura blamed media criticism for the league's struggles.

"They got embarrassed again," he said. "They thought this was going to be football players hitting each other over the heads with chairs. They thought it was going to be wrestling on the football field.

"Then, when they found out it wasn't ... they had to attack it and say it's not as good as the NFL – it's second-rate football," Ventura said.

So what is the future of the league?

"I don't know," he said. "We'll give it our best shot."

Meanwhile, Lawler, both a ring villain and hero who has served as a wrestler and commentator for the XFL-parent World Wrestling Federation since 1993, said he quit because the WWF fired his wife, Stacy Carter, an on-air personality and occasional wrestler known as "The Kat."

"I quit everything," Lawler told The Commercial Appeal of Memphis after returning home from Tucson, Ariz., where Thursday night's "Smackdown" television show was taped. "This is not a wrestling angle."

The WWF did not return Associated Press phone calls Thursday for comment. But the federation posted a statement on its web site saying: "Stacy Carter (The Kat) was released on Tuesday by the World Wrestling Federation. Her husband, Jerry 'The King' Lawler, also decided to leave the company under protest."

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