Other rules are aimed at increasing player safety, particularly on kickoffs, and at encouraging coaches to take chances. They won’t have as much time to make decisions as their NFL counterparts, who have 40 seconds between plays, because the XFL will have a 25-second play clock. The league will also have a running game clock and 10-minute halftimes.
One thing the XFL won’t have are extra-point kicks from any distance. Instead, offenses will stay on the field after touchdowns and have the option for a one-point play from the 2-yard line, a two-point play from the 5 or a three-point play from the 10.
“From research we had done, fans think there’s too much downtime and dead time. I suppose games have gotten longer,” said XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck (via the AP), a former NFL quarterback. “We wanted to take a step forward by going back to games under three hours, based on all our fan research. More action and more plays speed it up.
“Our data analysts looked at hundreds of games. This makes sense from a flow perspective, TV perspective and fan perspective. And I am looking forward to, as we launch, will our players be required to be in better shape? They’ll be moving fast and playing with tempo.”
As with the original version, the XFL is backed by WWE chairman Vince McMahon, this time without the co-ownership of NBC. (Telecasts will be on ABC, ESPN, Fox and FS1.) Whereas the first XFL, which staged just one season in 2001, attempted to have a pro-wrestling sensibility, McMahon and Luck hope the new league will succeed by giving football fans what they have said they want.
What the XFL hopes to avoid, according to Luck, is giving the impression that it is relying on gimmicks to lure viewers.
“I think there’s a really fine line between innovating and being gimmicky, and we’re trying to stay on the proper side of that,” Luck, the father of recently retired quarterback Andrew Luck, told The Washington Post last year.
In another conversation, he also told The Post: “Gimmicks in XFL 1 didn’t work very well. These are legitimate improvements to the game.”
Explanations of the new rules at the league’s website include a portion that lays out the reasoning behind them. For the double-forward pass, in which a team may make a second forward pass on a given play provided the first one did not cross the line of scrimmage, the listed rationale states that the new rule improves on the NFL’s version of the play by making it “less risky because the first pass may fall incomplete rather than becoming a fumbled lateral.”
“My thought as I watch the game develop, there are more quarterbacks out of the shotgun and already six yards back from the line,” Luck said recently of the rule (via the AP). “You aren’t wanting to throw a lateral to a receiver who would have to be seven yards or more behind the line of scrimmage. I thought to myself that the traditional trick plays would be enhanced. … We are excited to have that in the repertoire.”
It remains to be seen whether the double-forward pass becomes a staple of XFL offenses, or simply a rarely used bit of trickery, but it could have the effect of putting more players on the field in the mold of Lamar Jackson, the Baltimore Ravens quarterback who set the NFL aflame this season with his ability to both run and pass at elite levels. With run-pass option (RPO) plays becoming more popular in the NFL, the double-forward pass could add a number of devastating wrinkles to such plays, and another XFL rule is aimed at encouraging RPO-heavy attacks by making illegal-man-downfield penalties less likely to be called.
XFL pass-catchers will only need to get one foot down on the field of play, in contrast with the NFL’s two-feet-down dictum. That rule could mean more highlight-reel plays and speedier games, because fewer catches will presumably require adjudication from replay officials.
“As we went through this process, we had to keep in mind that players in our league will have played in college, and a vast majority spent time in the NFL, some in the CFL,” Luck said. “We had to be somewhat selective in terms of innovations to adopt. They need to be teachable to our players to play fast. We have had our coaches working with the players on all these innovations to make sure they don’t black out and think they are in a different league or back in college.”
On kickoffs, the kicking and coverage units will line up five yards apart, at the 30- and 35-yard lines, respectively, and no one except the kick returner can move until that player catches the ball or until three seconds have elapsed after the ball hits the ground. The goal is to encourage more kickoff returns while at the same time limiting the kind of high-speed collisions that can cause injuries and lead to brain trauma.
As they advance toward and into opposing territory, XFL teams will be discouraged from punting by rules that give returners more space and prevent teams from being pinned deep in their own ends by punts that go out of bounds near the end zone.
If a game goes to overtime, sides will alternate single-play possessions from the opposing 5-yard line, and the team that gets into the end zone more often after five rounds becomes the winner. Each overtime score is worth two points, and should teams have an equal number of points after five rounds, more rounds will unfold until one ends with a team leading its opponent.
As the XFL noted, an NFL overtime “can end in a tie and a team’s offense may never see the field,” an unhappy fact of which the Saints were reminded last week when the visiting Vikings won the overtime coin toss and immediately drove for a touchdown that ended New Orleans’s season.
The XFL’s first season begins Feb. 8. The league will kick off with eight teams, located in Dallas, D.C., Houston, Los Angeles, New York, St. Louis, Seattle and Tampa.