The XFL has returned for a new season, after a three year hiatus. If you’re a football fan, I suggest you check this league out. It’s different than what you are used to in the NCAA or NFL, but I promise it’s worth it.
The XFL was originally formed in 2000 by Vince McMahon of the WWE. He thought that the NFL had gone soft and had too many rules, which inhibited the amount of contact and created too many penalties. He created a smaller rulebook, and added elements of professional wrestling, trying to make it more entertaining. It did’t work. The league folded after one season.
Twenty years later, new ownership brought the league back. Gone were the limited rules and flamboyant wrestling hoopla, but they did start implementing alternative rules that make the game more exciting (more on that later).
But then COVID hit, cutting the season short. The league intended to come back in 2021, but it didn’t happen. Fortunately a third ownership group of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Danny Garcia, and Jerry Cardinale of Redbird Capital Partners was able to buy all the rights and restart the league.
There are 8 teams in 2 divisions spread across the country in a 10 week season. While the average attendance has been around 12-15 thousand, these fans are diehard football fans who dress up and have a great time like at a college or NFL game.
As I stated before, the XFL has different rules that are designed to enhance the excitement of the game without compromising on safety. This was one of the criticisms of the original XFL. Roughing the passer, late hits, roughing a defenseless player are all there to protect players, but there are unique rules that make it interesting.
The kicking team lines up on its own 30 yard line, while the receiving team lines up 5 yards away on the 35. The gunners on both teams cannot move until the ball is touched by the receiver or 3 seconds after it bounces on the ground. The ball must be kicked into the area between the goal line and the 20 yard line inbounds. If the ball goes out of the end zone or into the sidelines the receiving team will get the ball on their 35 yard line. If the kick fails to make it past the 20 yard line, the receiving team starts on the kicking team’s 45 yard line, which means they start more than half way down the field!
These rules promote kickoffs that get returns. In the first five weeks of the season I have seen few kickoffs that did not get a return unless a fair catch was called for.
Points After Touchdown (PAT)
This is one of my favorite rules in this league. The XFL does not have an option to kick an extra point, but there are three options for attempting a conversion. After a touchdown, the scoring teams lines up on the two, five, or ten yard line to attempt a one, two, or three point conversion. If they make it, they get the points. If they don’t, they walk away with the six from the touchdown. This can create unusual scores, but it means that teams are rarely out of the game, as it is easier for teams to launch a comeback when they are down by 10 and score 9 points on a touchdown and conversion.
Fourth Quarter Kickoff Option
Once a team has scored, they always have the options of either kicking off to the other team, or trying an onside kick. However in the fourth quarter, when a team is tied or losing, they have a third option: Fourth and Fifteen. The team that scored gets the ball right back on their own 25 yard line. They get to run one play, which must go 15 yards. If the play is successful, they keep the ball just as if they were in a fourth down and 15 to go situation. This means again that a team that is losing is less likely to be out of contention for winning the game.
During their first game of the season, the St. Louis Battlehawks were down by 12 points with about 2 minutes to play. In any other football league this would be an almost certain loss, since they would need to score a touchdown and PAT, kickoff and get the ball back, then score another touchdown and PAT. But in this case St. Louis scored a touchdown and a 3 point PAT, then completed a fourth and fifteen, marched down the field and scored another touchdown, winning the game with mere seconds to spare. It was one of the most thrilling finishes to a football game I have ever seen.
Each team gets one challenge per game, which they can use to challenge any ruling or non-ruling. They must have a time out available to make the challenge. If the challenge is upheld they keep their time out, but if it is not upheld they lose both their challenge and their timeout.
Here’s an example. In the NFL if you’re defense is charged with pass interference and you don’t think it happened, you can challenge and the call will be reviewed. But if your wide receiver was man handled but the flag not thrown, you have no recourse. In the XFL you could challenge the infraction or the lack of the infraction being called.
Hybrid NCAA and NFL
The other rules are a hybrid of other leagues. With the exception of during the 2 minute warning, the clock keeps running unless stopped by a time out. During the last 2 minutes the clock stops for plays out of bounds and first downs to move the chains. Players need to have one body part in bounds when catching a pass near the sideline rather than two.
Quality of Play
It’s important to keep in mind that this is a developmental league. These players were drafted by the NFL and never made it. Others were good players at Division II schools who were never going to get drafted by the NFL. There are dropped passes, blown coverages, quarterbacks that take too much time in the pocket, and offensive lines that don’t provide enough protection (since the first two weeks, but it has gotten better).
But you see moments of brilliance, like that 2 minute drill from the St. Louis Battlehawks, or Josh Gordon (who washed out of the NFL for his conduct) catching great passes, looking like the former Pro Bowler that he is. I don’t know if any of these players are going to show the NFL enough skills to get a tryout, but there are cases where I can see where it is possible.
Finally, there are the fans. These are rabid, diehard football fans. They are loud, they dress up for their teams, and in the case of the DC Defenders, they have a Beer Snake (one section of the end zone collects all the beer cups to form a snake from the front row to the top of the stands).
Is it Worth Taking a Look?
Right now, there is plenty of sports to watch. Spring Baseball, March Madness, NHL and NBA. But there is no other football. These kids are playing with heart. For some, it is their last chance to play the game they love. For others, they may not have received a fair shake from the NFL, and this is a shot to prove they can play. Either way, it’s worth checking out. The play is getting better, the drama is high, and it’s fun.
XFL (2020) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XFL_(2001)