The new XFL will be familiar in many ways. Same field, same positions on offense and defense, 4 downs to move the ball. It’s football, pure and simple.
But Oliver Luck and his team have been hard at work finding ways to refine the game. The stated goal is to create a faster paced league. In an NFL season that’s already seen a ridiculous uptick in penalties, a more streamlined style of play is more than welcome in the football world.
Achieving this goal is easier said than done, but it looks like the minds at the helm of the XFL have a solid plan in place to create such an environment. It seems every aspect of the game is under review here.
The Running Clock
Many outside observers of football, (usually soccer fans in my experience) note how the players “always stop” during the game. With the running clock, I think we will see a much more fast paced game as offenses try to get plays off. Play callers will have to completely change how they view time management.
With the exception of timeouts, the clock won’t stop before the two minute warning, so coaches won’t be able to rely on incomplete passes or out of bounds plays for most of the game. It will require them to make playcalling decisions much faster, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more scripted drives and no-huddle offenses.
Both of these options will help move the chains faster, and would require more rehearsed and cerebral play from offenses.
The two minute warning wrinkle is interesting as well, as the clock stops every play during this period at the end of each half. This is a great way to keep the action going, as teams with a lead won’t be able to take a knee and run out the clock.
According to the new rules, any pass behind the line of scrimmage is considered lateral. This opens up the possibility of double pass plays where the QB dumps it off to someone in the flat who could send the ball downfield. Coordinators could certainly take advantage of this if they have the right WR, especially one who played QB in high school or college.
While this opens up possibilities on offense, it’ll also speed up play. Since everything thrown behind the line is lateral, officials won’t have to burn time trying to figure out whether a pass was moving parallel to, backwards from or towards the line. Less stall, more ball.
The XFL is finding ways to make returns a viable part of the action again, in contrast to the NFL. Fair catches are not allowed, but coverage teams have to give the returner 5 yards of space to make a play. This rule has worked for years in the CFL and will bring more excitement to this phase of the game.
Kickoffs are also handled differently. The ball is placed all the way back on the 15, so touchbacks are unlikely. The league is also emphasizing player safety here, by barring coverage and return teams from moving until the ball is caught.
This way, players won’t be hitting each other at full tilt on each kickoff, and the return game will require more coordination and skill.
Rather than kicking for extra points or running two point conversions, teams will compete in a scrimmage after a touchdown. Here’s where it gets interesting.
If the offense takes the ball at the 2 yard line, they can score one point. If they choose to move further back to the 5 or 10, they can score two or three points respectively.
This adds some nuance to game management and situational football, as coaches can decide whether to gamble in a pinch or play it safe.
It seems like overtime rules in football are constantly in flux, from the NFL to the NCAA. In the new league, however ties will be decided by a shootout.
In a shootout, each team’s offense lines up at their opponent’s 5 yard line and has 5 attempts to score. While the offense can score a point on each play, the defense can also score if they get a turnover. Each offense lines up on their respective goal line at the same time, and they take turns making shots. Whoever has the most points by the end, wins the game.
This seems like a more fair option than letting a coin toss decide the odds, as each team has an equal chance to win the game in 10 plays of high intensity football.
It’s an intense, fast paced way to end games, and stadiums are going to be in a frenzy should a tie come about.