The XFL is back, baby, and if social media is any indication, it was a huge success this weekend.
The revamped league made its debut with four nationally televised games, two on Fox and two on ABC/ESPN. The league, trying to set itself apart, implemented several changes for player safety and with the hope for more points. The XFL added broadcast insights and quirks to make the telecast more dynamic for the viewing public.
When there’s a new product that introduces football with different elements, we all rush to figure out which ones could be adopted by the NFL. Before I list them out, I want to remind everyone why we watch the NFL: because of the product on the field, which is the best in the world. XFL will survive if the football is good. It appeared to be good enough in its first weekend.
The NFL is always looking to improve its game, and the last time the XFL was a functioning league, the NFL followed its lead by using Skycam technology regularly. This time around, here are the XFL’s new features that I’d expect the NFL to look into, ranked in order.
It’s time for a major sporting league to fully embrace gambling, and the NFL is getting close. It’s reportedly hiring a vice president of sports betting and, of course, there’s a team in Vegas now. The XFL broadcasts featured light gambling discussion and the lines on the score bug:
Because the XFL is a new league, Vegas isn’t going to offer much more than the basic game lines. In the NFL, everything is available to bet on. I can foresee a future telecast with live lines, mentions of player props, and a more robust discussion surrounding gambling. Maybe there will even be a centralized gambling expert who pops into games for quick updates on where lines and props are sitting.
I know this might turn a few people off, but I promise more fans would be into this than not.
2. Kickoff rule
The XFL has a one of a kind kickoff structure, one that’s far different than the NFL. You can read the entire rule on the XFL website, but basically, the rule is put into place for two reasons.
The first is player safety. The traditional NFL kickoff has been altered over the last few seasons to help eliminate big hits, which can result in major injuries. In the XFL format, that’s eliminated as the players line up five yards apart. When the returner catches the ball, the players on both sides are allowed to move. Here’s what that looks like:
Screenshot of XFL kickoff for future use pic.twitter.com/7FEToyQ7rO
— new-age analytical (@benbbaldwin) February 9, 2020
The second reason for this new kickoff rule is the hope it will increase explosive returns. I think this was misguided. This new setup will lead to better field position, but not more explosive returns. Explosive returns happen when the kicking team either gets blocked out of their lane or has a mental error and isn’t in their lane.
In the XFL, that’s rarely going to happen, as everyone starts in their lane and is much closer to the ball carrier. But more importantly, the defense knows exactly when the offense is about to move. The only advantage blockers have is knowing the snap count and the play. In this format, even if the returner is yelling “go,” the defenders get a jump on the blockers because they can see the returner catch the ball.
The reason the NFL might adopt some of this new kickoff idea is the player safety aspect of the return. The big collisions will be avoided and you can still keep this play in the game. I think there’s real fear the kickoff will leave the NFL shortly. This idea would be a way to keep an exciting play in the game.
3. Review transparency
In the XFL, all plays are reviewable in the booth, like the last two minutes of every half in the NFL. The big difference between the two leagues is the transparency of the new XFL, which airs the communication between the official on the field and the replay review personnel. In addition, the replay official is in the stadium, while the NFL does all its reviews from a central command center in New York.
Making these communications available would be helpful for everyone, including the fans and players. We would be able to understand the reasoning behind the review process and how officials view tough circumstances regarding keeping the call on the field, overturning it, or changing it based on a review. The NFL is already in need of an officiating overhaul and letting people in on the review process would go a long way to making nice with everyone involved.
After those first three, I think these next ones probably won’t ever happen, or won’t happen for a while, but I’ll list them.
4. Extra points
The XFL has eliminated the point after attempt from the kicker. Instead, teams can attempt a one-point play from the 2-yard line, a two-point play from the 5, and a three-point play from the 10. It’s a new idea, and one that’s worth trying in a new league.
A few years ago, the NFL moved the point-after attempt back to the 15-yard line, which increased the number of missed attempts. However, the PAT is still made at a high clip and the NFL might look to change things up again. I’m not sure if the XFL idea would fit what the NFL wants, but it could look at incorporating it in some form.
5. Pace of play
The XFL rules have been designed to make the games shorter, including a 25-second play clock, a dedicated ball spotter, a comeback period inside of two minutes, and more. The XFL found people want games under three hours. NFL games, when played crisply, are right around three hours.
I’ve never understood why people complain the NFL game is too long but rarely complain about the college game, which is almost an hour longer. NFL games will not be shortened much more than they already are because of their TV partner, who want to run their commercials.
6. Live microphones on the field
While fans seemed to enjoy this part of the new XFL the most during the weekend, don’t count on it happening in the NFL. The XFL had audio of the coach-to-player communications (on a delay) and had sideline reporters jump to interview players right after a play.
Even though I enjoyed the latter, it would not fly in the NFL. There was only one instance of cussing this weekend, but there would be way more in the NFL. The last thing any player would want is a microphone stuck in their face after a poor play. They’d either not answer, cuss so much the broadcast would stop the feed, or just knock the mic away.
XFL players signed up for this league knowing there were funky gimmicks like this, so they aren’t affected by it much.
For the coach-to-player communications being public, there’s ZERO chance it happens. No NFL coach would ever agree to have their plays out in the public and on live TV. Sure, on NFL Films a week later for a few select plays, but it will never be live.
There are plenty of new XFL rules that either did not debut this weekend or were too intertwined in the game to cover in this piece. Again, I think it’s important to note that while these might help the gameplay, or might make the broadcast more enjoyable, this league will only survive if the football is good. That’s it.
The NFL might borrow some of these rules and quirks, but not because it needs to change the game. Y’all are going to watch no matter what.