For the first time since 2001, the XFL was back in action this past weekend. The eight-team league looks to become a viable source of football after the Super Bowl, a market that the American Alliance of Football (AAF) struggled to captivate last spring. Despite the beginning of on-field action this weekend, the bigger story was this rebranded version of the XFL and its new vision. Whereas the original version of the XFL glamorized the violent aspect of football, this iteration of the XFL is geared towards improving player safety and delivering an appealing brand of offensive football.
Widely considered the most dangerous play in football, the XFL’s updated kickoff rule demonstrates its emphasis on player safety. The returning team lines up on its own 30-yard line while the kicking team lines up at the 35, forbidden from moving until the returner catches the ball. By bringing the players closer together and not allowing a running head start, the XFL hopes to reduce the number of traumatic full-speed collisions during kickoffs. Another wrinkle to the XFL kickoff is that they will kick from the 30-yard line, five yards behind the NFL kickoff. This is the XFL’s effort to eliminate the stale nature of constant touchbacks in the NFL.
The XFL has tried to generate more exciting football by dissuading teams from punting. Their rules state that if the punt lands out of the field of play, it results in the ball being spotted at the 35-yard line instead of the 20 in the NFL. Furthermore, the punting team is prohibited from chasing the returner until the ball has been kicked which increases the possibility of a big return.
In another effort to create a more thrilling on-field product, the XFL has provided teams with unique options after they have scored a touchdown. The three options include going for one extra point from the two-yard line, going for two extra points from the five-yard line, or going for three extra points from the 10-yard line. By eliminating the monotonous PAT and presenting new score combinations, the XFL looks to deliver a more captivating game but also to decrease the likelihood of games going into overtime in order to shorten the length of the game.
The XFL’s commitment to speeding up the game is also displayed through its revised clock policies. In a huge shift away from the NFL, the XFL hopes to speed up the game by establishing a running clock after incompletions and plays where the ball goes out of bounds (except for in the last two minutes of each half). The league has also added an eighth official, whose sole responsibility is to spot the ball after the conclusion of each play. In its final effort to shorten games, the XFL reduced halftime intermission to just 10 minutes, allowing coaches only two timeouts per half.
Although some headlines will certainly focus on the fan who stared into the camera while munching on a singular piece of cheese, the St. Louis quarterback shot-gunning a Bud Light seltzer after the game or the Seattle offensive lineman who dropping f-bombs on live TV, the league’s reinvention should claim all of the headlines. The NFL would be smart to borrow some of the XFL’s innovation in order to better protect its players and provide an exhilarating visual product.