XFL Preseason: Knowing the Rules
A new league means there are new rules to learn for the XFL version of football. This is a breakdown of all the rules and how they differ from what you're used to seeing on a football field.
In 2001, NBC and the World Wrestling Federation came together to run an experimental football league. It was supposed to be a more player-friendly, fun league with concepts that the “stuffy” NFL would never consider. Players could be whatever number they wanted, they could put nicknames or basically whatever they wanted on the backs of their jerseys, and there were different rules about kickoffs and other things. Anyone who is old enough certainly remembers Rod Smart famously had “He Hate Me” on the back of his jersey for the Las Vegas Outlaws.
Back in 2001, there was no coin toss. A player from each team lined up on the 35-yard line and the ball was placed at the 50. Whoever recovered the ball, received the kickoff. It sounded good, and while it tried to be another layer of excitement to the game, but in the second week the Orlando Rage’s Hassan Shamsid-Deen separated his shoulder and the scramble lost its luster.
Fast forward 19 years to today and the XFL is ready to give it another shot, and hopefully, a more well-thought out shot. Oliver Luck is the commissioner of the league, surely a move made to give the league some legitimacy. Let’s take a look at some of the rules in the XFL that are different from the NFL.
Points after touchdowns
There are no kicking extra points in the XFL. The offense will run a play from either the two, five, or ten-yard line, and a successful try will be worth one, two, or three points depending on where the play is run from. If the defense causes a turnover and scores it will be worth however many points the offense was trying to score.
Any punt that goes into the end zone will come out to the 35-yard line. Also, for a punter, the sideline is not your friend. If a punt goes out of bounds it is either brought out to the 35 or where it went out of bounds, whichever is better for the receiving team. Finally, the punt team can’t cross the line of scrimmage until the ball is kicked, which should nearly eliminate fair catches. So, while it seems like the XFL is attempting to stop high-speed collisions on kickoffs, on punts it seems to be cool. The XFL is all about big plays, and these punt rules should result in some big run backs. In theory, it also should make coaches think twice about going for it on fourth down since it is really hard to pin an opponent deep in their own territory with these rules.
Double Forward Pass
While the NFL only allows two passes if one is backward, the XFL allows two forward passes as long as the first one doesn’t pass the line of scrimmage. This could help a quarterback theoretically throw one pass to a receiver near the line of scrimmage who can then chuck it again to a streaking player down the field. Defenses won’t be able to just swarm to the ball if the first pass is still behind the line, because another pass could be coming. Offensive coordinators will be rewarded with a chance to be very creative.
There are no coin tosses and there are no ties. Overtime in the XFL is more like hockey or soccer. Each team gets five, single play possessions from the two-yard line. Teams are awarded two points for each successful conversion. They alternate plays until one team is mathematically eliminated. Defenses can’t score, if there is a turnover, the play is simply dead.
If the defense commits a penalty, there is another attempt from the one-yard line. If the defense commits more penalties, it will be considered a successful two-point attempt for the offense. If the offense commits a penalty before the snap, the ball will be moved back however many yards the penalty is worth. If they commit a penalty after the snap, it will be considered a failed attempt. If the teams are still tied after five rounds, then the game goes to sudden death rounds where a winner is declared when one team scores and the other doesn’t in any round.
One Foot Inbounds
Nobody knows what is and isn’t a catch in the NFL and it has caused a ton of controversy in the past few years, including during the playoffs. It seems like you need to catch the ball with control, with two feet down, on your mother’s birthday with the stars aligned after making a football move. The XFL keeps it much simpler. One foot down and maintaining control long enough to “perform an act common to the game”. In other words, Dez Bryant would have caught it in the XFL.
Unlike the NFL, outside of the final two minutes before halftime and the end of the game, the clock does not stop for incompletions or players going out of bounds. Inside of two minutes, if the play ends inbounds, the clock is stopped until the ball is spotted and five seconds run off the play clock. On incompletions and out of bounds plays the clock does stop until the next snap inside of the last two minutes of the first half and the end of the game. So, in the two-minute drill, the team with the ball will be given a little bit of an advantage as they get a slight “reset period” after every play. It also means that teams can run the ball more or throw over the middle of the field in the two-minute drill, ending the need to just throw to the sideline at the end. It also lessens a team’s ability to just run out the clock, as they will need to keep getting first downs to run the clock down. This should keep the games more exciting, and give the teams a better chance of scoring at the end of each half.
More Timing Changes
Instead of a 40-second play clock, the XFL clock is a 25-second play clock. Teams are each only given two timeouts per half. The rationale there being with a little more time stoppage after the two-minute warnings, that teams shouldn’t need three time outs per half. Halftime is also only ten minutes.
One of the refs is specifically there to spot the ball. That is his only job. So you won’t see any officials huddling to decide where the ball goes. That is one guy’s job. This way we know who to hate when we think our players got the screw job on a spot. There is also a much more relaxed “Illegal Man Downfield” rule. No ineligible player shall be more than three yards down the field until a legal forward pass that breaks the line of scrimmage.
There are no coaching challenges in the XFL. There is a replay official at each game in a booth above the field. There are no tents or screens or iPads here. And there are no red flags in a coach’s pants. Here are the plays that can be reviewed: any play involving a change of possession, a player or the ball touching the ground, any play around the goal line, plays near the sidelines, plays to determine if a team got a first down, and the number of players on the field at the snap. There are also replays regarding penalty enforcement, which down it is, where a penalty was committed (pass interference mostly), getting the game clock correct, and ejecting a player. The replay can also come into play if the safety of the players comes into question or any obvious error by the on-field officials.
There are no surprise onside kicks in the XFL, teams must declare an onside kick before doing so. And if a kick does not travel down to the 20-yard line, it is a penalty and the offense will get the ball on the 45. So, there will be no weak legged kickers or pooch kicks in the XFL. On traditional kickoffs, the XFL has created some rules to stop high-speed collisions. The kicker kicks from their own 25-yard line, but the rest of the kicking team is down at the opposing team’s 35-yard line. The return team sits at their 30. When the ball is kicked no one is permitted to move except the kicker and returner. Once the ball is caught (or if it is on the ground for three seconds), everyone can move. This cuts down collisions, but also should open the door for more potential kickoff returns. Also, if a kick flies into the end zone and the returner downs the ball it is brought out to the 35. If it bounces into the end zone and is downed or goes through the end zone, it is only brought out to the 15.