“Once you see the game, the rules are not that crazy,” Levy said in a phone interview ahead of this weekend’s opener between the DC Defenders and Seattle Dragons at Audi Field. “It’s really a good combination between college and pro, and it’s faster.”
Levy’s favorite wrinkle in the XFL rule book? The elimination of extra-point kicks in favor of giving offenses the option of going for one point, two point or three points from the 2-, 5- or 10-yard lines, respectively, after touchdowns. An 18-point lead late in the fourth quarter of a college or NFL game is fairly safe, even if the trailing team’s quarterback is Patrick Mahomes. In the XFL, an 18-point lead is still a two-score game.
The XFL will also allow offenses to make a second forward pass on a given play, provided the first pass does not cross the line of scrimmage. Like in college, pass-catchers will need to get only one foot down in bounds.
“That will lead to more creativity and spectacular catches and more points and more offense, and that’s all good,” said Levy, who will be at liberty to discuss point spreads and over/unders during the broadcast. (The Defenders opened as 6½-point favorites against the Dragons.)
One of the other major differences between the XFL and NFL is its shorter play clock, with 25 seconds between plays instead of 40. At the league’s preseason training camp in Houston last month, Levy and analyst Greg McElroy called a scrimmage from the booth to get used to the faster pace and familiarize themselves with the production enhancements that will bring viewers close to the action. Field analyst Tom Luginbill and reporter Dianna Russini form the other half of ESPN’s lead broadcast team for Saturday games.
“I don’t know how good the football is going to be, quite frankly,” Levy said, “but I think it’s going to be fun, and I think it’s going to be very interesting on TV because of all the sights and sounds, which you really can’t get from an NFL game. In some ways, it’s made-for-TV football with extra audio and access. They’d love to have the stands full, but we’ll have to wait and see on that. The television product is first and foremost in terms of importance.”
Every XFL game this season will be broadcast on ABC, ESPN, Fox, Fox Sports 1 or Fox Sports 2, and multiple players from each team will be mic’d up. Producers will have access to the audio communication between a team’s play caller and skill position players, and may incorporate it into the broadcast, while sideline reporters won’t have to wait until halftime or the final whistle to conduct interviews.
“I’m going to be able to talk to the head coach during the game, during a drive,” Levy said. “That’s unprecedented. In Houston, we had a guy ejected from the game for throwing a punch, and 60 seconds later we’re talking to him."
Levy’s lasting memory of the original XFL, which folded after one season due to poor attendance and television ratings in 2001, is a common one: He Hate Me, the colorful nickname Las Vegas Outlaws running back Rod Smart chose to wear on the back of his jersey.
“This XFL has sort of gone out of its way to almost pretend that XFL didn’t happen,” said Levy, who was considering opening Saturday’s broadcast with a nod to Smart. “They want people to know this is much more serious, this is much more about football. This business plan is years in the making, it was not rushed together, and they’re going to really try to make a go of this. ESPN and ABC and Disney, we’re giving this the royal treatment. … It’s not getting ‘Monday Night Football’ treatment in terms of resources and personnel, but it’s pretty close.”
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