Sports

A Breakdown Of The Good, Bad, And Weird In The XFL’s Unique Rules

The XFL’s second inaugural season is set to begin in one month and while teams have already begun training camp, the league just announced the full set of unique rules that are intended to differentiate their brand of football from the NFL and college, in hopes of being more exciting and, in some instances, safer.

Some of the rule changes seem like good ideas, others not so much, and some are just downright strange. We are going to break them down in those categories — Good, Bad, and Weird — below, and offer some thoughts on how they will change the game.

The Good

Extra Points

In the XFL, there will be no kicking extra points, instead they’ll follow the rules used in flag football where you can choose to go for 1, 2, or 3 points after with an offensive play from the 2, 5, or 10 yard line. Beyond the improvement that is simply taking away the kick for 1, the strategy involved in picking what amount to go for when is going to be fascinating to watch and lead to some added excitement — if for no other reason than a nine-point deficit late will be within reach on one play from the 10-yard line.

25-Second Play Clock

The XFL will have a designated ‘ball-spotting official” to try and expedite the process of spotting the football and once it’s spotted, the teams will have a 25-second play clock to work with. They note it takes on average seven seconds to spot the ball, so that’s about a 32-second play clock, compared to 40 in the NFL, which should keep the game moving a bit quicker. That’s a positive.

Running Game Clock

The clock will roll after every play, including incompletions and out of bounds plays, outside of 2 minutes to go in each half. I applaud the XFL’s efforts at sub-three hour football games and shaving those 7-10 seconds per play of spotting the ball before starting the clock will be a nice touch.

Catch Rule

The XFL will use the one-foot in catch rule like in college, while also simplifying the written rule for what makes something a catch as follows:

  1. Secures control of a live ball in flight before the ball touches the ground.
  2. Touches the ground in bounds with any part of his body, and then
  3. Maintains control of the ball long enough to enable him to perform an act common to the game, i.e., long enough to pitch or hand the ball, advance it, avoid or ward off an opponent, etc.

The hope is that it makes determining what is and is not a catch a simpler exercise and, while I have some skepticism that it will eliminate all controversy, I can appreciate the effort.

The Bad

Expanded Coach-Player Communication, But Only On Offense

Even moreso than recent NFL rules, the XFL rules are designed to benefit the offense. That’s fine, as the goal is to juice excitement with points, but some of the rule changes are such a detriment to defense that I think they need to rethink some of them. One of those is the addition of coach-to-player communication in the helmets of all skill position players on offense, but still only allowing one player on defense to have that audio in his helmet.

The rationale written by the XFL, literally, says this: “Since offense changes much more than defense we only need to adjust the way the offense communicates to players.”

Was this written by an offensive player? If the offense can sub and be relaying a new play to all skill position players that quickly, defenses are going to stand no chance in getting set properly in a timely manner. If all the QB has to do is get his OL set and then they can be ready to run a play while the middle linebacker is trying to get the whole defense set, it’s going to be a prohibitive disadvantage for the defense. Not to mention when the offense sends in a personnel grouping that requires the defense to change it’s personnel by subbing.

New Punting Rules

I’m probably going to be in a minority here, but the new punting rules are, again, at the total disadvantage of the defense. If the ball goes out of bounds, not just into the end zone, inside the 35, it’s a “major” touchback and is brought out to the 35. Gunners also can’t release downfield until the ball is kicked, not snapped, which is in an effort to create more fun returns. Touchbacks coming out to the 35 is an interesting rule that I can sort of get behind for kicks booted through the end zone, but to rid the world of the glory that is the coffin corner punt is something I cannot abide by.

I understand wanting more excitement, but by not allowing teams to pin the other deep inside their own territory I think you’re doing the opposite. The risk-reward of trying to pin a team deep inside their own 10, knowing a touchback would come out to the 35 if you mess up would be really interesting. Teams starting with the ball at their 35 is far less interesting than watching them try to march 98 yards down the field, as well, and everyone loves the threat of a safety. I think there were ways to make it a tougher decision to punt, which is what they want, without taking away the opportunity to pin a team deep, which creates really interesting football of its own because of the possibility of a huge play for the offense and defense.

The Weird

The Double Forward Pass

I’m not going to pretend to know whether this is going to work and be fun or be an stupid gimmick, but I do know it’s going to look weird every time it happens. Provided you are still behind the line of scrimmage, you can throw the ball forward a second time off a forward pass in the XFL. I don’t think this will come into play a ton, but teams will surely look to take advantage of how weird it’ll look to defenses by throwing fake bubble screens that go forward from the QB that are actually double-passes.

Again, it might be cool, it might be dumb, but it’ll for sure be strange to see.

Kickoffs

I lean towards the kickoff rule being cool. The no running start and putting everyone on the plus side of the field to eliminate the most dangerous collisions is good. That kicks must land between the 20 and the end zone is going to require a deft touch from kickers. Where I’m skeptical is that this will actually make for exciting returns. Part of what makes kickoff returns exciting is the speed at which everyone is moving and this takes that away. While I like making returns safer, I have my concerns about whether this will actually yield fun returns or just be a strange looking way to start each drive.

Rapid-Fire Overtime

This one I have no idea about. The shootout style OT, where each team gets five alternating offensive possessions from the five yard line, is going to be one of those things I need to see in action. I can see the vision for it, as it will make for some really high stakes moments once a team gets a stop or two, but I do fear we’re going to see a bunch of slants and fades and not a lot of ingenuity from the five-yard line. That after your first defensive penalty, every subsequent penalty results in a score for the opponent is another rule that skews way too strongly in favor of the offense and hunting for DPI is going to run rampant.

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