Fans taking in the action when the XFL kicks off on Feb. 8 may not recognize the game unfolding before them.
The XFL’s rules will differ from the popular NCAA game and even more significantly from its professional counterpart in the NFL, and it’s all by design.
Essentially, the XFL has divided its new rules into three categories — gameplay innovations, timing changes and common-sense rules.
Gameplay innovations include major shifts to kickoffs and punts, an additional three-point option for point-after attempts and defensive scoring on the same plays, a shootout-style overtime that will see each team get one play per round to score, and the legalization of two forward passes on the same play, provided the first stays behind the line of scrimmage.
While the timing changes are also numerous, perhaps the most direct are the addition of a running clock prior to the final two minutes of a half and of a replay official in a booth above the field that will handle all reviewable plays.
Finally, common-sense rules blend the XFL with the college game in the case of only needing one foot inbounds to establish possession of a loose ball and differ the XFL from both through the use of a dedicated spotting official, a shorter halftime and more.
On the surface, these rules seem radical — many will likely dismiss them as a desperate attempt to make a league some feel destined for failure relevant.
But could they also accomplish the XFL’s goal of changing the face of football?
The Impact of the XFL On and Off the Field
While the original incarnation of the XFL crashed and burned in the early 2000s, this iteration seems to be, though certainly still boundary-pushing, more conservative.
That doesn’t mean the league doesn’t have lofty goals.
In taking his second stab at the game of football, professional wrestling magnate Vince McMahon brought on XFL Commissioner and CEO Oliver Luck to help him reimagine what the game of football could be.
The proposed rules aren’t the gimmicks of old, either — Luck has gone on record to say that this XFL wants to stay as far away from gimmicks as possible and to enter the realm of “legitimate improvements to the game.”
This desire to evolve the game of football into a faster-paced, safer and more exciting product is the cornerstone of the XFL’s entire operation. It’s that commitment that could, if the XFL is able to chip away at all at the huge market shares of college and NFL football, upset the traditional balance and relationship between those leagues and their fans.
It’s not as if the XFL didn’t do its research — between focus groups comprised of fans and a nine-member committee Luck calls the “Football Reimagined Committee” featuring former NFL coaches and more, the league has a solid grasp on what some of the football world’s greatest minds think could make the game they love even better.
And the results Luck and company are after seem to be achievable — in early test games, the XFL’s new rules shortened games to just over two-and-a-half hours, but kept the action up to the tune of 169 plays in one game, alone.
The behemoth that is the NFL is certainly a long way from its demise — despite concerns about game length, safety, parity and more, the league is still wildly popular.
However, should the XFL’s second go-around prove not only innovative, but profitable, there could be serious changes coming to the gridiron.