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Examining the XFL’s Rulebook

January 7th was much anticipated for XFL fans as one last piece of news came out before kickoff on February 8th. The league announced the XFL’s rulebook that showcases several differences between them and the NFL. The goal of the rule differences was to make the game faster, safer, and easier to understand.

XFL's Rulebook
Courtesy of xflnewshub.com

XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck and the league has been working on the rule innovations since its announcement in 2018. They brought in several experts to examine ways to protect players’ health and enhance the fan experience. The Spring League, a developmental league, was used to help test the proposed rules and see how they would work. After two years of testing, the XFL and their Head of Officiating Dean Blandino put it all together for fans.

Kickoff Alignment

  • The kicker kicks from the 25-yard line and must kick the ball in the air and play between the opponent’s 20-yard line and the end zone.
  • The coverage team lines up on the return side 35-yard line and the return team lines up on the 30-yard line. Each team must have exactly three players outside the hash marks on both sides of the ball and cannot move until the ball is caught by the returner.
  • Out of bounds kicks and kicks that fall short of the 20-yard line will result in an illegal procedure penalty, taking the ball all the way out to the kicking team’s 45-yard line.
  • Players can move when the ball is touched by the returner or three seconds after the ball touches the ground (when the official waves his hand down).
  • If the ball is kicked into the end zone and is downed it is a “Major” touchback and the ball is placed at the return side 35-yard line.
  • Whenever the ball bounces in bounds and then out of the end zone or is downed in the end zone, the ball is placed at the return side 15-yard line.
  • If a player on the return team touches the ball and it goes out of bounds, the ball is spotted where it went out of bounds.
  • If a team wishes to run an onside kick, it must indicate this to the official before the play and the two teams will be permitted to line up using traditional NFL rules (i.e. 10 yards apart from the kicking team). There will be no surprise onside kicks.

Analysis

This is a rule that’s going to help avoid those big collisions on special teams. The hope is this rule will also add more value to kickoff returns. With the new kickoff rules in the NFL, the league has seen a drop in returns. The XFL wants to add more value to special teams, force returns, and penalize touchbacks.

Point-After Touchdown

  • After a touchdown, the team has the option of running a play from the 2, 5, or 10-yard line. Each play is worth 1, 2, or 3 points respectively. The team must run an offensive play. No kicking plays are allowed.
  • If the defense creates a turnover and scores, they match the points the offense was attempting.

Analysis

The league wanted to eliminate the bland kick after touchdown play and add more offense. Scoring three points after a touchdown could create a major swing in momentum in the game. Offense sells seats and this adds more excitement to a play that particularly isn’t.

Punt

  • The punting team cannot release past the line of scrimmage until the ball is kicked.
  • Gunners must line up at the line of scrimmage. They are permitted to move laterally once the ball is snapped until it is kicked.
  • Defenders over the gunner cannot cross the line of scrimmage until the ball is kicked.
  • If the ball goes out of bounds inside the 35-yard line, it is a “Major” touchback and the ball goes to the 35-yard line.
  • If a punted ball lands in the opponent’s end zone or goes out of the end zone the result is a “Major” touchback, and the ball goes out to the 35-yard line.
  • Fair catches are permitted (though disincentivized)

Analysis

Another example of the league trying to protect players from major collisions and injuries. It forces the returner to run or face the consequences of the other team having good field position. Coaches will have to make some decisions. If a team crosses mid-field, it makes more sense to go for it on fourth down than punting. Strategies will be put to the test for coaches which should make the game more exciting.

Double-Forward Pass

  • If a team completes a forward pass behind the line of scrimmage, that team may throw a second forward pass. The ball must not have crossed the line of scrimmage before the second forward pass.
  • Once the ball has passed the line of scrimmage, no forward passes are permitted.

Analysis

While the play may not be as utilized as some may think, this play could be a game-changer. Offenses will have more freedom to create plays and have some fun. Officials will have an easier time trying to figure out if it is a lateral or forward pass. This play eliminates confusion from fans or officials on plays and rules.

Overtime

  • Overtime shall consist of 5 “Rounds”, staged in alternating single-play possessions as is customary in NHL shootouts or MLS penalty kicks. A “Round” will consist of one offensive play per team. Each possession starts at the opponent’s 5-yard line and the offensive team has one play to score. The team with more points after 5 rounds is the winner.
  • Whenever a team has been mathematically eliminated before all 5 rounds have been completed, the game ends immediately (e.g. If Team A scores on its first 3 attempts and Team B is stopped on its first 3 attempts, then no subsequent plays are necessary).
  • If teams are tied after 5 rounds, then rounds continue until one team is leading at the conclusion of a round, and that team will be the winner.
  • For scoring purposes, each successful overtime score is worth 2 points.
  • The defensive team cannot score. If the offensive team commits a turnover, the play is over immediately.
  • If the defensive team commits a penalty, the offensive team will be allowed to re-attempt from the 1-yard line.
  • Any subsequent penalty committed by the defensive team on any subsequent play, including in future rounds, will result in a score awarded to the offensive team.
  • If the offensive team commits a pre-snap penalty, the ball will be moved back from the original spot, pursuant to regular rules and the play will be re-attempted.
  • If the offensive team commits a post-snap penalty, the play will end and no score will be awarded.
  • There will be a minimum of 20 seconds between plays with the ball-spotting official working in conjunction with TV and Official Review to signal when the next play begins.

Analysis

There have been complaints about how the NFL’s overtime rules and how it can be unfair. If a team win the coin toss and score a touchdown on their first possession, they win. The other team doesn’t get a chance to score. In college, the overtimes can go on forever if teams keep trading touchdowns back and forth. This should find a nice medium between the two. The XFL hopes overtime will take 5-10 minutes at the most which should help the fan experience.

Timing Changes

  • 25-Second Play Clock
  • Comeback Period – Occurs after the 2-Minute Warning in each half; on plays that end in the field of play, the game clock will be stopped until the ball has been spotted and 5 seconds have run off of the play clock; on incomplete passes and out of bounds plays, the game clock will stop completely until the ball is snapped.
  • Running Game Clock – Outside the last 2 minutes of each half, the game clock will run after incompletions and out of bounds plays.
  • Timeouts – Each team will have 2 one-minute timeouts per half.

Analysis

These rules follow what the XFL has been marketing for two years: more ball and less stall. Shorten the number of breaks and run more plays for fans. With these rules put in place, the XFL sees the game finishing around 2 hours and 45 minutes on average.

Replay Rulings

  • The XFL will have no coaches’ challenges and all plays will be subject to review from the Replay Official. The official will be stationed in a booth above the field.
  • Reviewable plays are limited to: (a) Plays involving possession. (b) Plays involving touching of either the ball or the ground. (c) Plays governed by the goal line. (d) Plays governed by the boundary lines. (e) Plays governed by the line of scrimmage. (f) Plays governed by the line to gain. (g) Number of players on the field at the snap. (h) Game administration. (1) Penalty enforcement. (2) Proper down. (3) Spot of a foul. (4) Status of the game clock. (i) Disqualification of a player. This list of reviewable plays is identical to those in the NFL prior to 2019.
  • Exception: The Replay Official may correct obvious errors involving player safety at any point throughout the game.
  • Exception: The Replay Official may correct any egregious obvious error that may have a significant impact on the outcome of the game in the last five minutes of the 4th quarter or during overtime.

Analysis

The league wants officials to be held accountable for their calls on the field. No coach’s challenges will be tough, but the league hopes to make the right call. Plus, it will protect players from plays that question their safety.

Basic Rules

  • One Foot Inbounds
  • Dedicated Ball-Spotting Official – There will be a dedicated Ball Spotting Official who will solely be responsible for quickly spotting the ball and getting a new ball after each play.
  • Coach to Player Communication – Selected offensive players and a designated defensive player will have communication with a coach through their helmet receiver; broadcast partners will have access to the communication and may use it for their broadcast.
  • Simplified Illegal Man Downfield – No ineligible player shall be or have been more than three yards beyond the line of scrimmage until a passer throws a legal forward pass that crosses the line of scrimmage. A player is in violation of this rule if any part of his body is beyond the three-yard limit.
  • Shorter Halftime – 10-minute break, then back to the action.

Analysis

These rules will tighten the game up from rules that are “too close to call” and shorten the game. One foot inbounds should help officials with quick calls on the field. The communication systems help with the 25-second play clock and make play calls quickly as well.


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Anthony Miller
XFL, Dallas Renegades, and Houston Texans writer for Overtime Heroics. Also contributes to NFL, XFL, and arena football news for XFL Board, Infinity Sports Network, Arena Football Talk, Prime Time Sports Talk, and Eagles Nation.
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