The XFL has announced various new rule changes ahead of the 2023 season.
A number of the rules are modifications of existing NFL or college football rules, while some are entirely new and untested.
VP of Rules Dean Blandino sat down with media members last week to detail how the rules changes will affect gameplay and the fan experience while seeking opportunities to provide better player safety.
One of the most intriguing rule changes tested out in the COVID-shortened 2020 season was a different way to run kickoffs.
Blandino explained that in college and the NFL, rules committees have intentionally reduced the opportunities for returnable kicks to reduce high-speed impacts between players that can often result in catastrophic injuries.
“We felt like, going in, the kickoff return in the NFL and college has really gone away,” Blandino said. “If you look at some of the numbers, less than 40% of kicks in college and the NFL are returned. We felt like we wanted to keep the kickoff return part of the game, but look for ways to make it safer and to protect our players from unnecessary risks.”
The kickoff for XFL games positions both teams five yards apart and allows only the kicker and the returner to move until the ball is caught or on the ground. The kickoff rule was used in 2020 and resulted in about 92% of kicks being returnable.
The XFL will also have specific rules in place that discourage touchbacks.
A kick that lands in the endzone will result in the ball being placed at the 35-yard line of the receiving team, ten yards farther than in the NFL or college. Kicks that land in the field of play and then go into the endzone will result in the ball being spotted at the 15-yard line to encourage returning teams to avoid touchbacks.
Both teams will line up on the receiving team side of the ball, with the kicking team at the 35-yard line and the return team at the 30-yard line. The ball must cross the 20-yard line or be on the ground for three seconds before any player other than the kicker and the returner may leave his respective restraining line.
The league will use a seven-person officiating crew with one referee whose sole job is to spot the ball between plays. This decision was made to specifically avoid situations like what happened in the 2021 NFL playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and the San Fransisco 49ers, where the ball could not be quickly spotted, preventing the Cowboys from an opportunity to win.
Instant replay will also be different for the XFL. Coaches will be allowed two challenges per half on any reviewable call, as was the case in 2020.
New this time will be the opportunity for coaches to challenge officiating calls or non-calls. Blandino explained that coaches need to be specific about what they are challenging.
For example, if a team feels an opponent held their tight end while running a route, and the referee did not make the call, the coach will be able to challenge the non-call.
During games, Blandino and a team of officials will be stationed in a command center with live feeds and audio communication to the in-game refs. From the command center, Blandino can directly call for play reviews on questionable plays, including when referees miss a call that impacts player safety.
“We don’t want an officiating decision to be the difference in the outcome of a game,” Blandino said.
Extra point plays will be a significant departure from the NFL and college. There will be no kicking opportunities for an extra point after a touchdown.
Instead, teams will choose from one of three options: a single point can be earned from a successful offensive run from the two-yard line. A two-point conversion will be available from the five-yard line. Finally, teams can go for three points by attempting to score from the 10-yard line.
One of the more intriguing wrinkles from the 2020 XFL season is the ability of offenses to make two forward passes. The first pass may not cross the line of scrimmage but can then be thrown forward.
Blandino explained that in plays such as a jet sweep, when the QB pitches the ball to a crossing runner, the runner would be eligible for a forward pass attempt, which is not allowed in any other football league.
The variety of rule changes the league will experiment with this season is intended to offer a faster-paced game of football with a focus on player safety and an improved fan viewing experience.
The XFL will return to play in February 2023, providing fans a chance to experience firsthand how the modified rules may improve some of the most frustrating aspects of the game.