The reinvented USFL, which is set to begin play in mid-April, will feature some modified rules in an effort to increase scoring opportunities and entertainment value as it looks to attract an audience to the latest professional football league that's giving it a go during the spring.
The league unveiled the rules on March 23, less than a month before the inaugural kickoff game on April 16 between New Jersey Generals and Birmingham Stallions, two of the eight teams. While most of the rules are designed to bolster the offense, they also are designed to improve game flow, enhance player safety, and make it easier to get penalty calls correct.
The biggest rule changes involve extra points, onside kicks, how overtime works, and the allowance of two forward passes. Here’s what you need to know.
In the USFL, after teams score a touchdown, they'll have the option to attempt a one-, two-, or three-point conversion. Teams will receive:
- One point for a kick made with the ball snapped from the 15-yard line
- Two points for a scrimmage play from the 2-yard line that successfully crosses the goal line
- Three points for a scrimmage play from the 10-yard line that successfully crosses the goal line
This means that in the USFL a "one-score" game can be tied with a touchdown and successful three-point conversion while an 18-point lead can be erased with two touchdowns (and subsequent three-point conversions).
After scoring, teams will have two options to retain possession. The first is a traditional onside kick attempt from the 25-yard line, The second will be running a 4th-and-12 play from their own 33-yard line. A first down means they will keep the ball from that spot. But if the play fails, the other team gets the ball wherever it was downed.
Instead of the NFL's first-team-that-gets-the-ball-can-win-with-a-touchdown approach, the USFL has turned overtime into a back-and-forth affair. Each team's offense will alternate plays against the other's defense from the 2-yard line. Each offense will run a total of three plays with each successful scoring attempt resulting in two points. The team with the most points after each has run three plays wins the game. If the score remains tied, it becomes a sudden-death situation with the subsequent attempts until a winner is declared.
Two forward passes
Another rule change allows offenses the ability to throw two forward passes behind the line of scrimmage. This twist will expand teams' playbooks while also adding the potential for even more trick plays.
Defensive pass interference
The penalty for defensive pass interference (DPI) will mirror college football, but with exceptions. DPI will be a spot foul if it occurs less than 15 yards from the line of scrimmage but it's only a 15-yard penalty even if the spot of the infraction is beyond 15 yards. This change is meant to decrease the severity of certain DPI penalties. However, if a defender intentionally tackles a receiver 15 yards past the line of scrimmage that infraction remains a spot foul.
Offensive pass interference
If a pass attempt does not cross the line of scrimmage, there can be no penalty for offensive pass interference (OPI) or ineligible player downfield. This rule change should help the offense without undermining the defense.
Each coach will be allowed one replay challenge. All replay decisions will be handled by Replay Command, which will be based at FOX Sports Control Center in Los Angeles. One replay crew will make all the decisions to ensure accuracy, consistent and faster rulings. Longtime NFL referee and current FOX Sports rules analyst Mike Pereira is the USFL's Head of Officiating.
USFL Replay Command will have the authority to overrule incorrect personal foul calls, including roughing the passer, hits on defenseless players, face-mask penalties, horse-collars, and more. USFL Replay Command also will be responsible for determining whether a pass interference infraction is obviously intentional when it occurs 15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
The clock will stop for first downs inside two minutes of both the second and fourth quarters. This will create more offensive plays during the final minutes of each half.
Kickoffs and punts
All kickoffs will be from the 25-yard line. No member of the kicking team may line up any further back than one yard while the receiving team must have a minimum of eight players in the set-up zone between their 35- and 45-yard lines.
After a kickoff travels 20 yards, the first touch must be the receiving team. If an untouched kick becomes dead, the ball belongs to the receiving team at that spot.
On punts, gunners may not line up outside the numbers and they cannot be double-teamed blocked until the ball is kicked.