By Howard Balzer
Since the first day the XFL announced it would begin play in 2020, the theme was that the league would “reimagine football.” Commissioner Oliver Luck emphasized that the game would have “less stall and more ball.”
During the last year-plus, the league has talked to countless people, including fans, while testing different ideas for what the rules would be.
Tuesday, the XFL revealed the key elements that will be evident when the league opens play the weekend after the Super Bowl, and consider it mission accomplished.
Fans will see a unique way to handle kickoffs, overtime, extra points and much more.
Head of officiating Dean Blandino acknowledged that adjustments could be made after getting feedback during training camps, which are now taking place in Houston, or even after the season begins. Blandino was available for St. Louis media Tuesday morning and then joined Luck for a national conference call in the afternoon.
Luck said “after listening to over 6,000 football fans nationwide who felt the game needs a faster pace of play and more action, we’re now super excited to be able to give our fans a fan-first game that is built for the modern 21st century.”
Said Blandino, “We don’t want to be too technical and affect the pace of the game. Implement a culture of clarity, consistency, and credibility for players, coaches, clubs, and fans,” while admitting that “teaching a football player brand new rules is extremely difficult, so we had to be selective in the innovation and rule changes we wanted to introduce.”
Herewith are the notable rules that St. Louis BattleHawks fans will see:
The kicker will be at the 25-yard line and must kick the ball in the air and in 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 considered a “major” touchback and the ball is placed at the return side 35-yard line.
If 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.
After a touchdown, the team has the option of running a play from the 2-, 5-, or 10-yard line, worth 1, 2, or 3 points respectively. The team must run an offensive play and no kicking plays are allowed. If the defense is able to cause a turnover and return the ball to the opponent’s end zone, the resulting score is equal to the number of points the offense was attempting to score on its extra point.
All members of the punting team cannot release past the line of scrimmage until the ball is kicked. Gunners must line up at the line of scrimmage and 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 also a “major” touchback, and the ball goes out to the 35-yard line.
DOUBLE FORWARD PASS
If a team completes a forward pass behind the line of scrimmage, that team may throw a second forward pass, as long as the ball has at no time crossed the line of scrimmage. Once the ball has passed the line of scrimmage, no forward passes are permitted.
Similar to the NHL shootout or MLS penalty kicks (coming to St. Louis in two years), overtime will consist of five “rounds,” staged in alternating single-play possessions. 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 five rounds is the winner.
If teams are tied after five 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 two 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, like 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.
25-SECOND PLAY CLOCK
There will be a 25-second play clock that begins after the ball is spotted for the next play. It takes seven seconds on average to spot the ball making it an average 32-second play clock.
This occurs after the two-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 five seconds have run off 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 two minutes of each half, the game clock will run after incompletions and out of bounds plays. Aside from incompletions and out of bounds plays, game clock rules outside the last two minutes of each half are the same as the NFL.
Each team will have two one-minute timeouts per half.
The XFL will have no coaches’ challenges and all plays will be subject to review from the Replay Official, who will be stationed in a booth above the field. Reviewable plays are identical to those in the NFL prior to 2019, meaning that pass interference will not be part of the review process.
The Replay Official may correct obvious errors involving player safety at any point throughout the game. The Replay Official may also correct any egregious obvious error that may have a significant impact on the outcome of the game in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or during overtime.
COMMON SENSE RULES
ONE FOOT INBOUNDS
To catch a ball means that a player:
Secures control of a live ball in flight before the ball touches the ground; touches the ground in bounds with any part of his body, and then maintains control of the ball long enough to enable him to perform an act common to the game, i.e., long enough to pitch or hand the ball, advance it, avoid or ward off an opponent, etc.
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.
All offensive skill position players (quarterback, wide receiver, running back, tight end) will have a coach-to-player helmet receiver. One on-field defensive player will have a coach-to-player helmet receiver.
The coach-to-player system allows a member of the coaching staff in the bench area or the coaches’ booth to communicate to a designated offensive or defensive player with a speaker in his helmet. There will also not be a cutoff on the communication (the NFL cuts off communications with 15 seconds remaining on the play clock or when the ball is snapped if it is prior to 15 seconds left) and the communication will be monitored between the snap of the ball and the end-of-play whistle.
Broadcast partners will have access to this communication and may use it during the game.
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.
In the NFL, an ineligible offensive player is illegally downfield if: (a) he moves more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage without contacting an opponent; (b) after losing contact with an opponent within one yard of the line of scrimmage, he advances more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage; and (c) after losing contact with an opponent more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage, he continues to move toward his opponent’s goal line.
The XFL rule is important because of the advent of the RPO (run/pass option). Due to the way the rule is traditionally written, it is hard to officiate. The XFL has written the rule to be clearer while also helping teams that run the RPO.
10-minute break, compared to 12 in the NFL.
This was left this for last because of an interesting comment by Blandino.
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 (10 yards apart from the kicking team). There will be no surprise onside kicks. The players on the kicking team will be allowed a five-yard run-up and the starting point will be the 25-yard line.
Prior to 2018, the NFL allowed players an unlimited run-up on all kickoffs. Safety concerns led the league to prohibit all run-ups, and the percentage of successful onside kicks has dropped precipitously. NFL coaches have suggested a rule that would create a “fourth-and-15 play” after a touchdown and if the team is successful, they keep the ball. In its eight-week season last year, The Alliance of American Football used a fourth-and-12 play.
When Blandino was asked if the XFL considered going to something similar, he said it was discussed, but then added, “That was an interesting play. I think ultimately what we wanted in the XFL was traditional football, football everybody is used to seeing with all three phases.”
Methinks anyone looking at all the rules described above would hardly refer to them as “traditional football.”
But who knows, that might be added somewhere down the line. Changing and being different is something the XFL is not worried about.