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This week, I came across a video from Fox Sports outlining some of the "innovative" new rules being employed in the XFL for its [second] inaugural season. The rules are intended to make the game more exciting and streamlined. Some of them sound like generally good ideas. Others seem like poorly thought-out attempts to make the offenses' jobs easier, at the expense of defense and special teams.

The XFL released a video detailing its new rules.

Overtime shootout sounds dumber than college overtime

I am not surprised that the XFL is experimenting with a new overtime design. I am, however, surprised that they managed to come up with an overtime that is somehow even more divorced from football than college's overtime rules. Now, I've made my distaste for college overtime clear in the past. In summary, college overtime changes the rules of the game such that the teams' relative strengths or weaknesses may shift dramatically, in such a way that the outcome of the game may not be representative of the game as a whole. For one thing, special teams is almost completely removed from the game.

The XFL is going even further. Overtime games will be decided by what is essentially a two-point conversion shoot-out. Basically, the teams will take turns trying two-point conversions until one team scores and the other doesn't.

Devin Hester return TD
Special teams stars like Devin Hester will be
completely irrelevant in XFL overtime.

So now, not only are kick and punt returns eliminated from the game in overtime, but the field goal kicker has to sit on the bench knowing that he can't contribute either. Does your team have an elite kicker? Too bad! He doesn't get to see the field. How about an explosive kick returner? He also has to sit on the bench and watch without being able to use his talents to help his team win the game.

Heck, unless your team specializes in converting short-yardage situations, your team is going to be handicapped. Have a trio of speedy receivers who stretch the field, and a QB with a rocket arm? Sorry, they only have about 12 yards to work with. Have a dominating pass rush that leaves rival QBs with little time to make a five or seven-step drop before being buried into the ground? Well, they probably won't have time to get to the QB, since the rules are basically mandating a three-step drop or less.

Put simply, this overtime is not football.

My other complaint with college rules has also been carried over to the XFL: games can't tie. The rapid nature of the shootout should hopefully mean that overtimes don't drag on for as long as college overtimes often do, and the scores won't be as wildly inflated. So those are improvements. But sometimes, a tie might be representative of a hard-fought game against two closely-matched opponents. But the XFL rules prohibit this.

No, I do not like these overtime rules at all.

Double forward pass isn't as exciting as it sounds

The most "meh" rule is the double forward pass. It's not nearly as exciting as it sounds and probably won't make much difference for offenses. It basically just means that we'll see slightly more double passes from the shotgun, since the wideouts won't have to backup as far into the backfield in order to receive a lateral and still be eligible to pass.

Randall Cunningham punt
XFL will be so unfavorable to punts, I wonder if
teams will even keep a dedicated punter on the roster.

That being said, it might make a big difference for fake punts. A punter actually is deep enough in the backfield for this rule to substantially open up the options for a double pass ...Which brings me to the next rule change...

Why bother punting?

These rules are basically completely negating the skills of a punter, to the point that I wouldn't be surprised to see some teams not even bother carrying a dedicated punter on their rosters. Eliminating coffin corner punts also eliminates one of the most significant skills associated with punting. Aim and distance will be virtually irrelevant since teams will always want punts to land in the field of play. All that will matter will be hangtime.

Instead, teams might simply play their backup QB as a punter and go for lots of fakes using the double-forward pass rule mentioned above.

No love for kickers either

Place kickers are also going to struggle to remain relevant or worth keeping on the roster. Eliminating the traditional kick for point after touchdown, and replacing it with three options for offensive conversions, leaves nothing for the place kicker to do except kickoffs and field goals. Teams will certainly want to keep specialized place kickers on their limited rosters, since (unlike punters) the field goal kicker can still score points and decide games.

I wouldn't be surprised to eventually see kickoffs removed as well, leaving kickers with nothing to do except kick field goals.

Saving the kickoff?

Removing kickoffs would be a shame, since the new kickoff rule might actually be the most clever and genuinely innovative idea that the XFL rule gurus came up with. The danger of running players into each other at full speed has put kickoffs on thin ice.

People have been brainstorming ideas for years regarding how to make kickoffs safer. Both the NFL and NCAA moved the touchback out to the 25 on kickoffs in order to make the touchback more appealing to the return team. The NCAA went one step further by allowing a fair catch inside the 25 to be treated as a touchback. The NFL didn't change the fair catch rule, but they did change its rules so that players on the kicking team have to wait till the ball is kicked before running. Eliminating this small head start did not, however, remove the biggest problem inherent to kickoffs: the 50-yard sprint to reach the returner.

Both the NFL and NCAA have experimented with rule changes to make kickoffs safer -- without much success.

This is where the cleverness of the XFL rule comes in. Not only does the coverage team not get a running head start, they also don't have to run as far to reach blockers or the returner. Return blockers won't be need to turn their backs on the coverage unit, and all players on both teams will be able to keep the full play in front of them. This, by itself should reduce injuries associated with players being blindsided.

In fact, we'll probably see some coverage players backing up in order to create multiple tiers of defense. Otherwise, the returner would only need one seam to break through the single line before having a clear path to the end zone. Well, almost clear. The poor kicker will be back there all by himself.

We'll probably see a lot of kick return touchdowns in the early weeks of the XFL's first season, as coaches will have to figure out how best to cover kickoffs through trial-and-error.My prediction: the best team(s) will be the one(s) with the best special teams coaches because they will be the teams who give up the fewest kick return TDs.

Speeding up the game?

The XFL also has some new clock and timing rules which are not part of the linked video. The full list of rule changes is on their website.

The play clock will only be 25 seconds long (similar to college football), and the game clock will not stop after incompletions or the ball-carrier going out of bounds. These should balance out to result in more plays being run in a shorter amount of time, and I think it's a fine rule. No complaints here. Some early rumors had suggested that quarters would only be 10 or 12 minutes long, in order to allow games to be completed in around two hours, but it looks like the XFL decided against shortening the length of regulation in favor of keeping the clock running.

Inside of two minutes in each half (which the XFL is apparently calling "Comeback Period"), the clock which actually stop even more than the NFL. In addition to stopping the game clock after incompletions and going out of bounds, the clock will stop after 5 seconds on all other plays. The intent is to slow down the game and allow teams to continue to use their full playbook (including running plays and plays designed to stay in the middle of the field) even if they are trying to come from behind. And they won't have to waste a down by spiking the ball either. I like the idea in principle (for the converse reason as to why I dislike the overtime rules). One corollary is that this will limit the ability of the winning team to run out the clock. That is, in fact, part of the intent, but it may also have the unintended consequence of dragging out games that are already decided, since these clock stoppages will be applied even in situations in which the losing team isn't even trying to come back.

fake spike
Teams won't have to waste a down
spiking the ball to stop the clock

I would not be surprised if this rule eventually changes to give the losing team the option to stop the clock. That way, the clock can be run out if the game is already decided, and we won't have to sit through the 30 minutes of "Comeback Period" every single game, even if no comeback is even being attempted. If that nuance can be ironed out, then I think this could be a net positive rule change.

Because of the clock stoppages in the "Comeback Period", teams will only have two timeouts. Halftime will also only be ten minutes. I'm not even sure if that will be enough time to even bother returning to the locker room. By the time everyone is in the locker room, it will be time to head back out onto the field, without having any time to make strategic adjustments.

Common sense?

The XFL likes to say that its rule changes are all "common sense". But to me, a lot of the changes seem poorly thought-out. Even the good ideas have flaws that might still take some trial-and-error modifications to get working as intended. Football is a complicated sport. There are reasons and rationales for why all the rules are the way that they are. The overtime rules, punt rules, and point after touchdown rules all seem (to me) like they are half-baked and unfairly favor offenses. The kickoff rules and clock rules are a bit smarter, but also have potential flaws. In any case, I think we can all agree that it's a good thing that the league is being taken seriously as football, and isn't being inundated by the silly wrestling-inspired theatrics that helped sink the first league.

We'll see how well it all works out when the XFL kicks off (for the second time) in late February.

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