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XFL Rules vs. NFL
AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

Where the Alliance of American Football (AAF) failed, the new-and-improved XFL football league is planning to exceed expectations. Eight teams filled 71-man rosters in the XFL Draft back in October with former college football standouts finding new homes, including Ohio State’s Cardale Jones, Georgia’s Aaron Murray, Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey (who is the all-time leading rusher in FBS history), Boston College’s Andre Williams, Missouri’s Kony Ealy, and Mr. Kick-Six himself, Auburn’s Chris Davis.

But the XFL isn’t just non-NFL players facing off in a traditional football game. It’s anything but, actually. The XFL announced several new rule changes that have two major goals: speed and excitement. Each game should last no more than three hours, and you’re about to witness football like never before.

XFL Rules vs. NFL

Kickoff

Rule changes to modern football rendered kickoffs basically irrelevant. The XFL points out that 6% of kickoffs in college football result in 21% of all concussions, which is why moving kickoffs to the 35-yard line and allowing fair catches inside the 25-yard line were introduced.

In the XFL, everything is different.

The kicking team lines up five yards away from the return team on the opposite 35- and 30-yard lines. The kicker starts from his own 25-yard line, but only he and the returner can move until the ball is caught, or it’s on the ground for three seconds. After that, the play begins.

“We’re giving players and coaches the chance to create kickoff excitement,” XFL Head of Officiating Dean Blandino says in the league’s introductory video.

If the ball is kicked into the end zone, a “Major” touchback is awarded, and the football is placed at the 35-yard line. Surprise onside kicks are a thing of the past, and teams must announce their intentions to do so. All onside kicks follow traditional rules.

Double-Forward Pass

Oh yeah, they’re going there.

Traditional rules in both college and pro football already allow double passes, as long as the first pass is backwards and behind the line of scrimmage.

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In the XFL, the first pass may be thrown forward, as long as the play is still behind the LOS. This opens up so many possibilities for dual-threat players to be on the field. From jet sweep touch passes to goal line gimmicks and gadgets, this can potentially be one of the coolest changes the XFL has to its rules.

Point-After Touchdown

Say goodbye to the extra point kicks. The XFL has three options to score, and none of them involve 160-pound kickers who only have one job.

After touchdowns, the offense stays on the field and attempts one play from three different spots. If they score, the points are awarded. If the defense scores, however, they get the same amount of points the offense was trying to score.

1-Point Attempt: From the 2-yard line

2-Point Attempt: From the 5-yard line

3-Point Attempt: From the 10-yard line

Comebacks and late-game surges to put teams away suddenly play a huge factor in strategy, and most likely, pissing off gamblers who bet Seattle minus-5.5 to beat Houston.

Punt

The XFL is trying to do away with teams wanting to punt, which won’t exactly make #ForTheBrand founder Pat McAfee happy.

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No player on the punting team can release until the ball is kicked. (This differs from NFL rules, which allows “gunners” on the outside to release as soon as the ball is snapped.) If a punted ball lands in the end zone or goes out of bounds anywhere inside the 35-yard line, a “Major” touchback is awarded, and the ball is placed at the 35. If the ball sails out of bounds outside the 35, the ball is placed at that spot.

XFL head coaches like Dallas’ Bob Stoops, Seattle’s Jim Zorn and Tampa Bay’s Marc Trestman suddenly have big decisions to make when 4th down comes.

Overtime

Ever seen a shootout in soccer or hockey? The XFL is doing what football fans have wanted for so long, but American leagues have never embraced.

Both teams have one play from the 5-yard line to score. Trading plays across five rounds, each team is awarded two points for every score. The team with the most points after five rounds wins, and if they’re both tied after five, we keep playing until one team wins.

One thing to note: penalties on the defense result in offensive teams getting another shot from the 1-yard line. If the defense commits a penalty on the next play, the offense immediately gets the points no matter the result. Pre-snap penalties on the offense moves the ball back, and post-snap penalties on the offense means no score is awarded.

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Timing Changes

The XFL is implementing a 25-second play clock, which includes a dedicated ball-spotting official whose only job is to get the ball down and ready for play. From the moment the ball is spotted, the clock runs (Neither of these exist in the NFL, which uses a 40-second play clock that begins at the conclusion of the previous play.)

The game clock also runs at all times, no matter if there is an incomplete pass or the play ends out of bounds. The XFL wants fast-paced games, so this sense of urgency changes everything.

The only exception to this rule is the “comeback period,” which begins inside the two-minute mark of each half. For every play ending in-bounds during this period, the clock stops until the ball is spotted and five seconds run off the play clock. Incomplete passes and out-of-bounds plays stop the clock completely.

Late-game comebacks just got a whole lot more interesting, huh?

Each team has only two timeouts per half, and all replays will be done by a Replay Official, which eliminates coaches’ challenges altogether.

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Also, halftimes are only ten minutes long. Get a sip of water, re-tape, get back on the field.

Common Sense Rules

The XFL is making the game less muddy than the NFL by making some easy-to-follow changes.

Players need only need one foot inbounds after securing a catch, offensive players at the skill positions (QB, RB, WR, TE) have Coach-to-Player communication in their helmets to signal plays faster. One defensive player has this capability, just like the NFL.

With the rise of RPO plays — Run-Pass Option — the XFL is changing illegal man downfield penalties to allow offensive lineman to go at least three yards downfield, rather than NFL rules where players only one yard beyond the line of scrimmage can be flagged on pass plays.

This isn’t Vince McMahon’s original version of the WWE-aligned league, where running down the football rather than a coin toss was “innovation.” New XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck and his team have created something new, fresh and fast, and I can’t wait to see this product come to life on the field.

The league’s 10-week regular season schedule begins Saturday, February 8. Games will air on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, FOX, FS1 and FS2, and the XFL playoffs begin April 18.

Pick your squad, and let the games begin!

XFL Teams

  • Dallas Renegades
  • DC Defenders
  • Houston Roughnecks
  • New York Guardians
  • Los Angeles Wildcats
  • Seattle Dragons
  • St. Louis Battlehawks
  • Tampa Bay Vipers

MORE: Army Veteran Nate Boyer Gets Another Shot at Pro Football with XFL

John Duffley About the author:
John joins the FanBuzz team with five years of experience freelancing as a sports writer for TheDupes.net and Football.com. A graduate of Penn State University, John currently lives and works in Austin, Texas. He is also a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA).
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