A double-forward pass?! A three-point play?! A five-round overtime?!
These may sound like the exaggerated rules from the first incarnation of the XFL that were developed as more of a gimmick for entertainment value similar to the WWE, but they are integral parts of the recently announced rules for the new XFL set for its rebirth on February 8.
While some may question or hark back to the 2001 XFL, all of the rules are justified, according to XFL commissioner Oliver Luck.
“All of these rules are grounded in the rationale of what we want our league to be like, not changing something for the sake of changing it,” Luck said. “There were a number of principles we tried to follow but arguably most importantly there had to be a good, solid rationale behind a rule change.”
If a team completes a forward pass behind the line of scrimmage, that player has the ability to attempt another forward pass as long as the ball has at no time crossed the line of scrimmage. The rationale behind this rule is to keep the excitement of the double pass while providing reassurance that the first pass won’t result in a fumbled lateral, but rather an incomplete pass.
Extra points in the NFL are traditionally a given. In fact, PATs had such high success rates, the league moved back the try to the 15-yard line. In the XFL, no extra points will be free points. Offenses will have three options to try to add to the six points scored following a touchdown. Teams can attempt a one-point offensive play from the 2-yard line, a two-point play from the 5 or a three-point play from the 10.
“We want the ball and we’re gonna score,” Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck infamously declared ahead of overtime during the 2004 NFC Wild Card game against the Green Bay Packers. Hasselbeck instead threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown as the Packers walked off in overtime, leaving the embarrassed quarterback no chance for redemption.
The XFL is introducing a five-round overtime this season—think hockey shootouts or penalty kicks in soccer. Teams will alternate five single-play possessions with the team scoring the most (each score is worth two points) declared the victor.
The XFL also has amended rules to kickoffs, punts, timing and replays. The XFL will feature a 25-second play clock, running game clock outside of two minutes, and a 10-minute halftime.
“We wanted that fast-paced, up-tempo game with as many meaningful plays in the game as we could have,” Luck said.
The XFL certainly did its due diligence with compiling these rules, something Luck said was “maybe the most fun” he has in his role with the league. More than 6,000 diehard football fans were surveyed and interviewed about the pros and cons of the modern game. People wanted more scoring at a faster pace and less idle time; they didn’t want gimmicks (something the 2001 XFL featured prominently).
From there, the league consulted trusted coaches, players and officials including Doug Flutie, Jim Harbaugh, Jim Caldwell and John Fox; citing both the NFL and Canadian Football League (CFL). The rules and changes in gameplay were then brought from the conference room to the gridiron, tested at two junior colleges in Mississippi and with semi-professional teams.
“You had to take all of these ideas and make sure they didn’t just look good on a white board but also on the field with football players,” Luck said. “The players we were working with loved being the beta test for a lot of these things and it gave us great guidance on what was doable and what we should hold off on.”
The XFL tested the 5-yard halo rule on kick returns as well as debated eliminating punting altogether. Luck said it would be too hard to retrain players on the halo rule and it was difficult to officiate, so instead, the league delayed the release of gunners creating more distance and time for returners to catch and return a punt. Eliminating punting and turning the XFL into a four-down league was scrapped after understanding the potential ripple effects it would have on play calling as a whole with teams potentially shading more conservative in an effort to consistently pick up first downs.
While a fast-paced, up-tempo style were priorities in creating these rules, player health and safety were as equally as important. The NCAA and NFL addressed this by creating more opportunities for touchbacks on kickoffs—and thus more meaningless plays—while the XFL shortened the distance between opposing players and created a delay when the kicking team is able to start sprinting downfield.
“We wanted to make sure as we looked at this option or that one, we didn’t want to go backwards in terms of health and safety making something more dangerous,” Luck said. “As a former player and father of a recently retired player (Colts quarterback Andrew Luck), these are human beings, our brothers, fathers, friends, uncles, so health and safety played an important role in what we are doing.”
All eight XFL teams have begun training camp in Houston with the season set to kickoff in one month. Opening weekend features a pair of doubleheaders on Saturday, February 8, and again on Sunday, February 9; one week after Super Bowl LIV.
“It’s an exciting time and it’s nice to see it all come together, but there’s still a lot to do before opening day,” Luck said. “We’re beginning to pick up some momentum.”