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Pros and Cons To The New XFL 2020 Rulebook

The wheels have been in motion for nearly two years on the XFL’s reimagining of the game of football. This morning, the XFL finally unveiled the driving force behind the creation of their league.

The vehicle that is the XFL is now on full display and ready for the long drive of the coming season. The XFL unveiled their list of league rules and innovations for their fastly approaching 2020 season. The rulebook will be made available to the full public in two weeks.

The league has tested these rules and concepts for over a year now with players, coaches, referees, medical professionals, the league’s football operations department and the XFL’s broadcast partners. There have been elements that have been tweaked and some that were scrapped altogether along the way.

Before the viewing public officially sees the XFL rules and innovations in play on ABC, Fox, and ESPN.  There will be 4 preseason like games during the current XFL training camp to help players, refs, coaches and the league’s broadcast partners get even more adjusted to the rules before the regular season kicks off.

Let’s take an in-depth look at the XFL rulebook and all of its parts.

THE 25 SECOND PLAY CLOCK

This is the engine for the XFL. The speed of the game is the entire source of energy behind the league’s reimagining. The 25-second play clock will impact the offensive and defensive play in the XFL greatly. There are other features and rules that are in place strictly to enforce and strengthen the effectiveness of the shortened play clock.

A designated official for ball spotting after every play is over so that a new play can begin immediately, and an enhanced multi-player audio communication system between coaches and players for skill positions (QB, RB, WR & TE).

PROS:

This is the best course for speeding up the game naturally. The league wants to be fast-paced and this accomplishes that. Having a ball spotting official seems like a minor addition to the playtime but there’s a reason that it exists. The XFL is dedicating a role to one sole official to help control the fast-paced tempo of the game.

There will be 5 to 7 seconds after a play for the ball to be spotted. Having players line up quickly and immediately drove the need for the XFL to improve upon the player-coach communication system.

It’s something that other football leagues may adopt in time. A true 2020 and beyond idea and it helps in combatting the potential unintended consequences of having a shorter play clock with a sped-up process. There is not going to be the traditional cut off of audio between the players and coaches that exist in the NFL. The communication continues until the snap and after the whistle. That’s a big plus and the XFL’s broadcast partners will have full use of this.

CONS:

The reliance on technology to work without a hitch. Even in modern-day football. There are audio and headset communication issues.

The XFL is relying on precise technology to help them avoid the nuisance and regularity of false start and delay of game penalties that kill in-game momentum. Teams fail to get to the line of scrimmage and run a play before the play clock ends all the time in the NFL.  That’s with 40 seconds.

Having multiple audio receivers is a smart move, it beats the NFL’s method of having only one player with audio access. The defensive side is at a clear disadvantage here. That might be by design.

While there isn’t the same type of need for audio transmission for all defensive players, it made sense to have more defensive players linked into their coaching staff.

SPECIAL TEAMS

There are so many layers to this area to unpack and unravel. It’s impossible to label this as just one specific thing.  You can argue that this an entirely built from scratch model.

Very few traditional special teams elements from the NFL and College games are in play here. The entire return game is completely reimagined. Field goals remain the same but every other aspect is entirely different from the NFL. There will be a traditional onside kick but no surprise onside kicks. No extra-point kicks, a theme that survived from the original XFL. (More on that later).

Where does one start? How about where every game starts?

THE KICKOFF

Kickers have to kick the ball from their own 25. The coverage teams are lined only up 5 yards apart at the return sides of the 35 and 30-yard line. Teams must have 3 players lined up outside the hash marks.

The rub is that the coverage units can’t move until the kickoff is caught by the returner. If the ball lands near the returner and he fails to field it within 3 seconds, the coverage units are then allowed to take off at the signal of the official.

Got that? It’s not over yet. The kicker must avoid kicking the ball out of bounds. If he does, the receiving team gets the ball at the kicking teams 45-yard line. If the kickoff fails to reach the receiving teams 20 yard-line. Then the same illegal procedure penalty applies.

There are two possible touchback results in play as well. A downed kickoff into the end zone brings the receiving team out to the 35. The other touchback scenario penalizes the offense. A ball is kicked inside the 20 and goes into the end zone, it results in the receiving team being penalized by starting at their 15-yard line instead. If a return team player touches the ball inbounds and it goes out of bounds. The drive begins where the ball went out of bounds. 

PROS:

A lot of time and effort went into this. The marriage of two ideas. Keeping the return in the game but still safe. This was probably the area that was worked on the most.

It certainly wasn’t an easy concept to craft.  You can tell by all the different rules in place that the XFL wants returns back in football. The rules themselves force the teams to allow the nearly extinct kickoff return to exist and be a big part of every game.  It should add more exciting plays to an area that has become rather dull in modern-day football.

CONS:

I probably would have moved the kickoff way back to the 15-yard line to ensure returns and thereby virtually eliminating the touchback altogether.

From a visual standpoint, this will be the first thing that viewers see when they watch the XFL. It will be jarring. There are no two ways about it. Expect #XFLKickoff to be a very prominent trend on Twitter at about 2:01 pm eastern on Saturday, February 8th.

PUNTS/PUNT RETURNS

Some of the league’s best work in reimagining the game may have come in this area. This will make 4th downs very exciting. A slight tweak from what has been tested in the past is the disappearance of the “No Fair Catch” and the “Halo” rule.

The XFL has tweaked this area by not allowing the entire punting team to release until the ball is kicked. No gunners taking off full speed at the snap. This rule in theory by itself will create more room for a returner to catch the ball and head upfield.

Much like the XFL’s kickoff rules. There are rules in place to ensure that punt returns happen. If you punt the ball out of bounds inside the 35-yard line, the receiving team automatically gets the ball at their 35-yard line. The same result happens if a punt goes into the end zone. 

PROS:

One of the XFL’s best-intended consequences from their punting rules is the fact that teams will now go for it on 4th down more because of the league’s 35-yard line touchback rule.

If you are at an opposing team’s 40-yard line and are facing 4th down. Why even bother punting? When you think of the less stall aspect of the XFL mantra. You think of the manipulation that just took place with Mike Vrabel and the Titans last weekend.  Tennessee rather than attempt to go for it on 4th down in Pats territory ran some creative trickery with an NFL loophole and milked two minutes off the clock by pretending to punt immediately, intentionally delaying the game and then intentionally false starting.

It was fun watching Bill Belichick taste his own medicine but in a way, it was a mockery of the game. There will be more exciting high stakes plays in the XFL because of what they did on this end.

CONS:

The traditionalists will hate this one. Perhaps former Pats special teams coordinator and the new Giants Head Coach would be the Joe Judge, Jury, and Executioner of these innovations.

You can’t coffin corner kick in the XFL. Teams can still pin teams inside the 20 but the punt will have to be fielded inside the field of play. There’s a scenario where returners may elect to not field a punt inside the 20. The hope would be that the punt goes into the end zone for a 35-yard touchback, but this strategy could backfire on some returners.

POINT AFTER TOUCHDOWNS

After a touchdown, a team has the option of running a play from the 2, 5, or 10-yard line, with the conversions being worth 1, 2, or 3 points. If the defense causes a turnover and returns the playback to the opposite end zone. They are rewarded with the number of points that the opposing team was attempting.

PROS:

There will be so much strategy involved in point after touchdown decisions. It will extend beyond just teams that are trailing late in games. Even teams that are ahead may decide to go for three rather than 2 or 1 point.

For example, the Guardians might be up 20-13 on the Vipers after scoring a touchdown late. New York opting for 1 or 2 still keeps Tampa in the game, However going for 3 and succeeding, would put New York up by 10. There are so many different types of scenarios like that.

Even being up by three after a score and going for three could backfire if you turn the ball over on a 3 point attempt, and it’s returned for a score. The succession rate of three-point conversion attempts throughout the season will be a fun thing to track. Second-guessing coaching decisions is a wonderful experience for most football fans. I am sure that Pat McAfee is going to hound a coach or two about their decision-making process on gameday.

CONS:

There’s not much to not like from where I sit. I am not mourning the loss of the extra point kick personally. The one thing that will be different and this showed in the original XFL and the recent AAF was the nontraditional scores that will appear during games.

There might be some 12-6 games that appear to be a defensive struggle when there has been actually been three offensive touchdowns that have taken place. The 3-point conversion will be such a low percentage play to convert, to begin with.

My only gripe is that I feel that the league’s 1 point conversion should be from the 1-yard line. Make it easier to convert, more of a run-pass option and have the drama that is usually attached to goal-line stands.

DOUBLE FORWARD PASS

Another league innovation that sounds more radical on paper than it actually is. A double forward pass can be thrown if the first pass is behind the line of scrimmage.

This type of play will show up when quarterbacks are mostly in the shotgun 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Most likely in bubble screen type situations.

PROS:

An exciting play if executed correctly. A lot like the Philly Special. This will also bring an added layer of strategy to defenses. If defenses decide to play corners aggressively at the line to combat quick passes. They could be susceptible to giving up the big play down the field during a double pass. A pick your poison type scenario.

CONS:

Forgive me but I don’t see much here to quibble about. You could argue that the ball should remain live on these plays if the first forward pass behind the line is not completed but if that rule was in place. Offenses will be less inclined to even try the play, to begin with.

It’s a disaster waiting to happen for offenses, so teams will attempt this exciting play more because an incompletion won’t be ruled a fumbled lateral.

OVERTIME

This is probably the least likely scenario to happen in the XFL and if it does, it will only be once or twice during the whole season. If it does occur,  it’s going to be an exciting thing to watch play out if teams are tied after regulation.

Overtime games are rare, to begin with. The original XFL played 43 games and had only 1 overtime game. The AAF played just one OT game in eight weeks of play. What also stacks the odds against overtime happening in the XFL is the league’s unique scoring system.

The likelihood of a tie happening is decreased with the all different scoring options in play. Getting to a traditional 31-31 tie after 4 quarters of play will be a difficult task.

Just to recap. The XFL’s overtime consists of 5 rounds of 2 point conversion attempts from both teams at the 5 yard-line. Each conversion counts as two points. Teams take alternate turns until one team has scored more than the other. If a team scores on their first 3 conversions and the other hasn’t. The game is over. If both teams are still tied after 5 rounds. It’s a sudden death period of rounds until someone wins. Defenses can’t score in overtime. Play is dead once it is stopped.

Halfway decent minds think alike. During the XFL’s conference call with Dean Blandino and Oliver Luck. XFL Chalk Talk‘s Reilly Bradshaw beat me to the punch by asking if the XFL teams would still be on opposite sides of the field during what is essentially a two-point shootout in overtime.

It appears that the league is still undecided on whether to have all the players on one side of the field or on separate parts of the field. It’s something that Oliver Luck says that will be decided in the next couple of weeks in training camp.

PROS:

This is an exciting solution to a potential problem spot for the league. The XFL can’t play an extra quarter of football. The whole premise of the league is finishing a game under 3 hours.

The XFL is up against programming on their partners’ networks. The games start at 2 pm and 5 pm eastern respectively. So getting the second game over by 8 pm before the primetime network shows start will be very important. The XFL had to figure out a fair way to create a quick resolution to any games that are tied.

They have eliminated the coin toss and are giving both offenses and defenses a chance to decide the outcome. As revealed by Oliver Luck in their conference call, the average time in the XFL’s game testing was 2 hours and 45 minutes with timed breaks and halftime. The overtimes took less than 10 minutes. Eliminating a 5th quarter also covers the safety focus of the league for the players.

CONS:

In a perfect world. A full quarter is played or…. Both teams get one possession and then it’s followed by the first team who scores wins concept.

RUNNING GAME CLOCK/COMEBACK PERIOD/TIMEOUTS

In many ways. These are all directly connected to the speed of the game and the 3-hour window that the league has in place. Halftime will only be 10 minutes. Teams will only have only 2 one-minute timeouts per half.

Outside of the last 2 minutes of each half, the game clock in the XFL will still run after incompletions and out of bounds plays.

The comeback period occurs after the 2-minute warning. On plays that end in the field of play, the clock will be stopped until the ball has been spotted and 5 seconds have run off the clock.

The kneel down still exists in the XFL but instead of teams being able to milk the final 2 minutes of the game with kneel-downs when the opposing team has no timeouts. It can only be done in the XFL when there is 1 minute left in the game. There’s a 5-second play clock run-off and then the game clock only starts when there are 20 seconds left on the play clock.

PROS:

This will keep games exciting and still up for grabs up until the final minute of play. The clock is not completely stopped on inbounds plays but offenses will have a shot to set up and get plays off. Somewhat similar to college’s first down rule. Minus the shorter play clock.

The last two minutes of decided NFL games can sometimes be meaningless football. The added time for offenses at the end of the games will open up playbooks. The comeback period will give teams the option to run and use all areas of the field.

CONS:

I think this could have been a bigger negative if the rules weren’t tweaked during testing. The running clock and comeback period kind of cancel each other out. The knock against this is the familiar pattern of watching the late game football strategy involved in preserving time.

XFL offensive teams and their coaches have a bit of a crutch to aid them in that respect. The plus side is that the kneel down strategy has been minimized to an extent but overall, in an effort to stop the noncompetitive nature of clock manipulation that goes on in the pro game. The XFL is doing some manipulating of their own but I think ultimately in a good way.

OFFICIATING

The XFL will have no coaches’ challenges. All plays will be subject to review from a Replay Official in the booth, who will have a team working with them, and the official in the booth will have full access to all replay angles.

The Hawk-Eye tech is mostly used in Tennis. It’s basically a multiple camera system that tracks the ball or any area within 5 millimeters. and it only takes seconds to do so. The XFL can use this tech for sideline plays, the end zone or any multiple areas that they want to pinpoint on the field. It might eliminate the need for even measuring for first downs. It will be more effective for football than it is for tennis.

There are some limitations with the replay official when it comes to subjective calls but the head replay official will be able to correct any obvious errors that the officiating crew misses on the field in the final five minutes of the 4th quarter or in overtime.

The league’s officials will be referees from various fields of football. Dean Blandino today mentioned that a good portion of the XFL’s refs will be from the power 5 conferences in College. Since these refs are independent contractors. They are allowed to work in other leagues in the non-fall period.

Some of the rules in place are also designed to make the officiating crew’s jobs easier. Like the One foot in bounds rule for all catches. Love the quote from XFL players surveyed about this rule that they “catch with their hands, not with their feet”.

There is also a rule in place that aids RPO based offenses and offensive lineman in general. In the XFL, Offensive Linemen are allowed to be 3 yards downfield rather than the 1 yard downfield rule in the NFL.

Often times, an offensive lineman will get flagged for being down the field during a play. It’s usually a meaningless penalty that happens more frequently than one would expect. From an offensive standpoint, this helps teams run more effective RPO based plays. The league has simplified the illegal man downfield penalty and in the process helped offenses.

PROS:

After watching officiating in the NFL get progressively worse year after year. I am all for any type of change that simplifies the rules and speeds up the process.  Get the calls right and use 2020 based technology to your advantage. 

That’s what the groundbreaking decision of using Hawk-Eye will do. Love the one foot in bounds rule and the simplification of the catch. The XFL is also doing away with the coin toss. Home field teams get to decide whether or not they want to kick or defer before every game. In a new league, I love that feature and the added advantage for home teams built-in.

Visiting teams will then get the option in overtime. I have even seen refs on the NFL level get the coin toss wrong. It’s time for referees and leagues to start getting calls right for a change on a more frequent basis.

CONS:

Human error will always rear its ugly head. There’s a 60-second time frame for calls to be reversed. On paper, that sounds great but is it practical? We are going to find out.

The replay official up in the booth has a lot of power in this league. He or she better get it right. Even the AAF’s collection of ‘Sky Judges’ had bad judgment calls. It’s inevitable that coaches, players, and fans will be upset overplays that don’t get reviewed or overturned. The subjective penalty is the most polarizing element in football.

I was initially on the fence but I was kind of hoping that Pass Interference would be more of a standard penalty rather than a spot foul but maybe that will be in play for 2021.

FINAL SUMMARY

XFLNewsHub’s very own Mark Perry asked XFL CEO Oliver Luck if the XFL would be flexible in changing or modifying their rules during the season. It was a great question.

Oliver responded by stating that these will be the league’s set rules for the 2020 season. Luck did, however, leave the door open for changes in the future. I think that’s a great thing. That the league is willing to tweak or modify and improve upon the groundwork of their rules.

There is no doubt that some of these concepts may not pan out as well as they did during testing, and that there will also be concepts that are absolute home runs.

If you are new to the XFL party or are on the fence. The rules might give you some pause. Understandably so, Change is not easily accepted and football is religion for most. The truth is that if you have been on the XFL journey from 2018 to this point. Then you are most likely on board with the reimagining and are willing to give these rules a shot.

If you are not, then You shouldn’t have expected a league built with the premise of reimagining to have all the same old football rules in place.   The XFL is trying to conceive certain aspects of football in a new way, and if they really work.

Those new ways of old ideas end up becoming old ideas over time. It’s a big-picture perspective for sure but for evidence of this, just watch the overhead camera view of this weekends NFL playoff games.

I am a credentialed reporter and writer. Over time, I have covered and followed the NFL, NCAA, and multiple football leagues intensely. Like the USFL, WLAF, NFL Europe, AAF, UFL, and of course, the XFL. You can follow me on Twitter @byMikeMitchell

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Paul the Throwdown Master

    January 17, 2020 at 11:10 am

    The first year of a few months in a series against the first lady who has been in a series against her family and friends for the last three months is the first year he has seen the world of the world cup and her husband in a series of games in the past two years and has.

  2. Randy White

    January 17, 2020 at 11:13 am

    I really like it when i get a little bit of a few months in a series of games in the past two weeks but I’m not going anywhere else but it doesn’t have any sense in me either because it’s the first lady i think is going through with a few more.

  3. Brian okiec

    January 29, 2020 at 11:03 pm

    I am looking forward to this league, can’t wait for Vegas to get another xfl team.

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