The UFL hasn't even started yet, but It's already proving to be a disappointment. The recently-merged XFL and USFL announced some of its rules recently, which give an insight into how the league's managers are approaching the sport. And it isn't good.

Easily the single best idea that the XFL implemented was its lower-risk kickoff rules. This rule lined the kickoff coverage team at the receiving team's 35 and the kick return team at their own 30 -- only 5 yards apart from each other. The only 2 players not lined up on these yard markers are the kicker (who kicks the ball from his own 30), and the returner (who lines up around his own 10). No return blocker or coverage player may move until the ball has been fielded by the returner or has bounced no the ground. This rule put all of the players only a few yards apart from each other, instead of staggering the blockers across the half the length of the field. This eliminates the high speed collisions that resulted from coverage players running into blockers or the returner at a full sprint, and was expected to dramatically reduce major kickoff injuries (the kickoff being one of the most dangerous plays in all of football).

There has been talk over the years of eliminating kickoffs from football entirely, because of the danger inherent to the high speeds on the play. But the XFL rule provided perhaps the best opportunity to save the kickoff. It was such a smart idea, that both the NCAA and the NFL have considered adopting the XFL's kickoff. Neither has done so yet, but they should. If kickoffs are going to stay in football, I think this is how it will be done.

The XFL's old kickoff rule should be the standard for all football leagues -- but apparently not the UFL.

But the UFL apparently doesn't think so, as the UFL's rules managers are apparently opting to ditch the XFL kickoff rule in favor of the traditional, higher-speed, kickoff.

The UFL is claiming that the XFL kickoff did not result in a significant reduction in injuries, but I'm skeptical of that claim. The league only operated for 2 seasons, and teams didn't play more than 10 games in either of those 2 seasons. That's not a whole lot of time to establish long-term trends. It's not like major injuries are happening in NFL kickoffs every single game. It would take years to establish whether the rate of injuries is actually lower than the NFL, or if it is substantially higher than on any other football play from scrimmage.

Other than a flimsy excuse that the XFL kickoffs didn't apparently reduce injuries in the highly limited sample size that was available, the league's head of football operations, Daryl Johnston, said "the stationary kickoff [...] just didn't look like football.". So the XFL rule is at least as safe as the NFL rule, but the UFL provided no justification (that I could find) based on fair competition -- only a superficial preference that the traditional kickoff "looks better".

In fact, the UFL is actually moving the spot of the kick back to the kicking team's 20 yard line (instead of the 35 yard line in the NFL, or the 30 yard line in the XFL). This is their attempt to eliminate touchbacks and force more returns. This means that the UFL's kickoff rule will likely end up being more dangerous than the NFL's kickoff rule because the UFL will have a higher rate of kickoffs being fielded and returned, which means a higher rate of players running into each other at a full sprint and risking major injuries.

The XFL's kickoff, by the way, had more than a 90% return rate. So it also successfully resulted in almost all kickoffs being returned.

If this lack of forward-thinking is going to be common in the rationale that the operators of the UFL are using to create their rules, then I have zero faith in their ability to run a successful football league.

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Here we go again. The NFL is modifying its overtime rules. Now, both teams will have an opportunity to possess the ball in overtime. Even if the winner of the coin toss scores a touchdown on the opening drive of overtime, they will still have to kick off to the other team, who will now have an opportunity to match with a touchdown of their own, or potentially win the game if they convert a 2-point conversion.

The rule change is in response to the Chiefs' victory over the Bills in last season's AFC Divisional Playoff. If you recall, the 4th quarter of that game was a shootout with 5 lead-changes. The Bills scored what should have been the game-winning touchdown with 13 seconds left in regulation. The Chiefs then gained 44 yards in 2 plays and kicked a game-tying 49-yard field goal to trigger overtime. The Chiefs received the opening kickoff, drove down the field, and scored a game-winning touchdown against the exhausted Bills' defense. The Bills never got to possess the ball in overtime because, according to the old rule, if the opening drive results in a touchdown, the game ends.

Chiefs beat Bills in overtime Photo Credit: William Purnell/Icon Sportswire
The Chiefs beat the Bills in overtime of the 2022 AFC Divisional Playoff.

Fans have complained about NFL overtime rules for a very long time. The common complaint is that the winner of the game often comes down to a coin toss. But this is only partially true. In fact, in the regular season, the winning percentage of the team receiving the overtime kickoff is only barely more than 50% (86-67-10). This percentage changes to over 90% (10-1) in the playoffs (since the current hybrid sudden death rule went into effect). The disparity probably results from playoff teams being generally better and having better offenses.

So what else can be done to change the rules? I've already expressed my distaste for proposals to implement college overtime rules. I'm not going to rehash that here, since that isn't what the NFL is doing. Other proposals include making overtime an extension of the 4th quarter, which just gives an overwhelming advantage to the team who possesses the ball at the end of the 4th quarter, and removes any pressure for that team to execute in the final minute or so. Or maybe overtime should just be decided by a field goal shootout? Just take the offenses and defenses out of the equation entirely, and let the kickers decide the winner!

Really though, the NFL's new rule still doesn't solve the underlying problem: which is the coin flip. Now, if both offenses score, the game still goes into sudden death, and the team that gets the tie-breaking 3rd possession was still determined by the coin toss. In that Chiefs vs Bills Divisional Playoff game, even if the Bills had scored a TD to match the Chiefs in overtime, the Chiefs would still get the ball next, and it would be sudden death. The Chiefs would probably still win against a tired Bills defense that was completely incapable of stopping them. The game would just go on longer, the defenses would be even more tired, and the risk of injury would be greater. So here's my proposal:

I propose the NFL get rid of coin tosses.

Get rid of the coin toss

I think the NFL should go back to having sudden death overtime, and should get rid of the coin toss entirely. Instead of having a coin toss, the visiting team should just be able to chose whether it wants to receive the opening kickoff, and the home team should be able to chose whether they want to receive the overtime kickoff. This might sound unfair, but the idea here is to remove a coin toss from the equation, and make the opening possession of overtime become a part of a team's home-field advantage.

In regular season games, teams play half their games at home -- or at least they do over a 2-year average, since the NFL added a 17th game to the schedule. This means each team will have a 50/50 change of getting the opening possession in regular season overtimes, so it's fair. In the post-season, the home team is determined by playoff seeding, which is a function of the teams' regular season records. The team with the better regular season record gets homefield in a playoff matchup. This means that getting the opening kickoff in a playoff overtime will be a privilege that the home team will have earned by having the better record (or the seeding tie-breaker).

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