League incorporates new special teams, passing, and overtime rules
The XFL unveiled its new rules Tuesday for its relaunch of the league, which will debut on Feb. 8. The original league founded by World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon lasted only one season in 2001 and promoted fewer rules and rougher play. The new XFL, also owned by McMahon, intends to take a faster-paced approach that balances player safety under the moniker, "Less stall and more ball."
The new league and rules come after months of market research that included focus groups and a nationwide survey of more than 6,000 football fans. The research revealed that fans want a faster game that includes less and interruptions and downtime than a traditional NFL or college football game.
"We also asked fans what they don't want, and this is important for us. They were very clear in saying that they don't want gimmicks and don’t want inauthenticity," said XFL Commissioner and CEO Oliver Luck. "And they didn't want to be complicit in player injuries. They didn't want to feel guilty watching a game where perhaps there was concern about the player health and safety — in particular, brain health, something that certainly wasn't on the radar screen 20-25 years ago, but is today."
The XFL then consulted a panel of medical experts, sports executives, and football coaches and players, including Jim Caldwell and Jim Harbaugh, to create the new rules for the league. Once they were established, the league tested them on the field with junior colleges. Now that it has been completed, the new league will mainly mirror traditional football but with some major changes in special teams, points after touchdowns, passing, and overtime.
"We had decided that unless there was a strong rationale to change the traditional rules, then there's no need to change it," said Luck. "We certainly didn't want to change things just for the sake of changing something."
Here is a breakdown of the rules that were changed.
In college and the NFL, the kicking team lines up at their own 35-yard line and sprints to the returner once the ball is in the air. The kicker still tees off from their own 35 in the XFL, but under their new rules, the kicking team's coverage unit will line up on the return team’s 35-yard line, five yards away from the 10 members of the return unit other than the designated return man.
Besides that return man, neither team can move until the ball is caught or on the ground for three seconds. If the ball goes out of the end zone, it is ruled as a "Major" touchback and is placed on the 35-yard line. The rule is designed to create more returns with less violent collisions, based on the findings that kickoffs account for only 6 percent of the plays in college football but result in 21 percent of the concussions.
"There will be visual signal from two of our officials, the referee who's in the return team's end zone that the kicking team can see and the center judge who’s going to be back with the kicker that the return team can see," said Dean Blandino, the XFL's Head of Officiating. "And they and they will both work in conjunction with each other and signal the referee."
Blandino also said that the referees will hold their arm out and do 1-2-3 count. The league is also exploring an audio signal for players.
The NFL and NCAA allow gunners to release from the line of scrimmage once the ball is kicked, and defensive strategy is built around touchbacks and "coffin corner" kicks that pin offenses deep in their own territory. In the XFL, no players will be able to release until the ball is kicked. Furthermore, punts into the end zone and out of bounds will be considered "Major" touchbacks that go to the 35-yard line. With this rule, the league is trying to cut down on the number of punts that are not returned and encourage teams to go for it on fourth down in their opponents' territory.
Double-Forward Pass and One Foot in Bounds
This is exactly how it sounds. An offense can throw one forward pass, and as long as that toss and player remain behind the line of scrimmage, the team can throw another forward pass. This gives offenses more room for creativity without running the risk of a fumbled lateral in the backfield. The league will also only require a receiver to have just one foot in bounds for a reception, as opposed to the NFL's rule of two.
PATs and Field Goals
The XFL will break away from traditional football by eliminating the extra-point kick and allowing three scoring options. A team can line up on the two-yard line and go for one point or it can line up on the five and go for two. And if a team is down by a lot of points, it can line up on the 10-yard line and go for three. This means that an 18-point deficit is still only a two-score game.
"The decision could be very significant and not sort of the automatic, 'Well, I'll go for one,'" said Luck. "But you have the chance to go for two or go for three with obviously a higher risk attached to that, and I think that was something that really caught the attention of our fans."
While the PAT will not be used, field goals will still be a scoring option for XFL teams.
Instead of the modified "Sudden Death" overtime of the NFL or the traded possessions of college football, the XFL will incorporate a shootout similar to hockey and college of five one-possession plays per team with two points for each score. The teams will participate in five rounds where each offense lines up on the opponent five-yard line and has one play to score. Each score is worth two points, and the team with the most points at the end of five rounds wins.
"We wanted to stay consistent with the structure of our extra-point attempts," said Blandino.
The XFL is still determining whether teams will switch end zones on each overtime possession.
The XFL plans for its games to last less than three hours while having the same amount of plays. It will do this in a number of ways, including holding the opening coin toss 30-45 minutes before kickoff and using a continuous game clock that runs after incompletions and out-of-bounds plays, except for during the final two minutes of each half. The league will also adopt a 25-second play clock and have an official dedicated solely to spotting the ball between plays. Each team will have two timeouts per half, and coaches will not be allowed to challenge officials' calls. Finally, halftime will only be 10 minutes long, which differentiates from the NFL’s 12-minute and college football's 20-minute halftimes.
"Our overtime, we believe, is an overtime that can get done completely in anywhere between seven to 10 minutes, so our desire to have the ability to have a complete regulation game as well as an overtime in that three-hour window is met by the way our game's constructed," said Luck.
The eight-team league relaunches the weekend of Feb. 8 with four games broadcasted on ABC, FOX, and ESPN.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.