If you are like me, while you enjoy the Divisional round of the NFL playoffs there is a small part of you that gets sad when you realize there are only a few weeks left of football. Fortunately, this year we have an alternative after the football season in the way of the XFL.
XFL – Part 1 (2001)
You may remember when Vince McMahon, the CEO of the WWE, tried this before in 2001 when the XFL ran for one season before folding. Then it was more of gimmick however, with players making up their own names to place on the back of their jerseys and starting the game with a mad dash for the football instead of a coin flip.
And while “He-hate-me” and “Chuckwagon” sounded like a good idea at the time, the idea was too far away from the product in the NFL to keep viewers attention. The first week drew a 9.5 Nielsen rating, which was double what had been promised to advertisers and more than the 2001 Pro Bowl had achieved, and the second week still had a 4.6 rating which was still acceptable by NBC standards. Unfortunately, the ratings continued to drop throughout the season until it bottomed out at 1.5 for the last two weeks of the regular season, and a 2.1 for the championship game.
McMahon’s first attempt at creating a professional football league was more WWE and less NFL. And while it got attention with all of the flash and excitement, the actual product on the field was not very good. Starting with 8 teams in two divisions, only two teams finished with a winning record, 3 others with a 5-5 record. All players were mic’d up to begin the season, but that was later adjusted after hearing quite a few cuss words and players saying that they were going to “Kill those ****” which was broadcast all over the stadium speakers.
The problems started with the very first game, as Orlando’s Hassan Shamsid-Deen hurt his shoulder on the initial rush to the ball which replaced the coin toss. He would miss the remainder of the season. Another rule that was changed mid-season was press coverage on the wide receivers. In the beginning defensive backs were allowed to push the receivers before the ball was thrown, as long as it was from the front or the side. This was changed to the 5 yards as in the NFL to try to encourage more offense.
All in all it was a failed experiment to try to create another professional football season. There were some players that used their time in the XFL to move on to the NFL, most notable Tommy Maddox and Rod Smart. Others made their way to the CFL, and a few ended up in the Arena League. In the end, however, it was just not what the public wanted.
XFL – Part 2 (2020)
Fast forward to 2018, and Vince McMahon announced that he would be bringing the XFL back starting play in 2020, the week after the Super Bowl. It appears that he has learned a little from the first time around, as he has gotten rid of some of the gimmicks and instead of promoting violence and sex appeal, the XFL will be more family friendly this time around.
In addition to cleaning up the sideline antics, the new version of the XFL will have well-known coaches and players on the rosters from the very beginning. Included in the XFL are college stand out players Cardale Jones and Cam Artis-Payne who both had successful college careers. Landry Jones is also on the Dallas Renegades roster, although he hurt his knee in training camp and will be out for 4-6 weeks.
In addition to these men, there are others who have had some experience in the NFL. Connor Cook, who was drafted in the 2016 draft, will be playing for the Houston Roughnecks, and Sammie Coates will be catching passes from him after bouncing around a few NFL teams in his 5 years, including time with the Pittsburgh Steelers who drafted him in the 3rd round in 2015.
This is where the XFL has made the biggest strides in becoming a true professional league. While the initial incarnation of the XFL had coaches such as Gerry Dinardo and Ron Meyer running the sidelines for their teams, this version is starting off with Bob Stoops (Dallas Renegades) and June Jones (Houston Roughnecks) amongst the head coaches.
Other head coaches will be Winston Moss of the Los Angeles Wildcats, Kevin Gilbride of the New York Guardians, Johnathon Hayes of the St. Louis BattleHawks, Jim Zorn of the Seattle Dragons, and Pep Hamilton of the DC Defenders. Of particular interest to me is former Chicago Bears Head coach Marc Trestman, who will be in charge of the Tampa Bay Vipers. Trestman had great success in the CFL, winning 3 Grey Cups, but did not have the same success in the NFL.
The original XFL had rule changes that were more of a gimmick than actually improving upon the NFL model, which was made apparent when they had to change some of the rule changes midway through the season. This time around, however, they are trying to be more innovative and less gimmicky.
Starting with only needing one foot in bounds for a catch, which is the same as the college game where a lot of these players will be coming from. There will also be the option of a double-forward pass, so long as both passes happen behind the line of scrimmage.
Many of the new rules are focused on speeding up the game. Among these are having one official whose sole priority is to spot the ball, which is different from the NFL and college games where it is a combined effort amongst all of the officials. The play clock is reduced to 25 seconds, down from 40 seconds in the NFL, but does not start until the ball is spotted.
To help the offenses running the RPO (run-pass option) the illegal man downfield penalty will only be enforced after 3 yards downfield, as opposed to the current 1 yard in the NFL.
Halftime will also be shortened, from 15 minutes to 10 minutes, and each team will have 2 timeouts per half. In addition, there will be no coaches challenges, but there is a replay official who will be stationed in a booth above the playing field, and will be responsible for noticeable mistakes made by the officials on the field. There are some exceptions, but mainly changes of possession, spotting the ball, and player safety are priorities of the official. The game clock will also run after incompletions and out-of-bounds plays that occur outside of the last two minutes in each half.
Now to make sure that there is still excitement at the end of the half, there are certain clock rules that will help with that. On any play that ends in the field of play in the last 2 minutes of each half, the clock will stop until the ball has been spotted and 5 seconds have run off of the play clock. And in these last two minutes, incomplete passes and plays out-of-bounds will stop the clock until the ball is snapped.
My second favorite rule change is kickoffs. I believe the XFL has found a way to protect players and still have exciting returns. The kicker will kick off from his own 25-yard line, but must kick between the opposing 20-yard line and the end zone. If it is too short, or goes out-of-bounds, the ball will be placed at the opposing 45-yard line, if it is downed in the end zone it will come out to the 35.
In order to stop the high-speed collisions, both teams will be lined up 5 yards apart, at the return side 30 and 35-yard lines. The coverage team will be required to have exactly 3 players outside of the hash marks on each side of the ball, and are not allowed to move until the ball is caught by the return man. Onside kicks will still be allowed, but it must be indicated before the kick, and then will follow the NFL rules. Surprise onside kicks will not be allowed.
Punts are similarly incentivized. The punt team cannot release past the line of scrimmage until the ball has been kicked, and if the ball goes out-of-bounds inside the 35-yard line it comes back out to the 35. Fair catches are allowed, but you probably will not see many of them with the coverage team farther away from the return man when he catches the ball.
The only scoring changes have to do with after a touchdown is scored. The teams will have the option of going for 1, 2, or 3 points, which will be lined up at the 2, 5 and 10-yard line respectively. Any defensive score on these plays will result in the defense getting the amount of points that the offense was attempting.
Overtime rules have been adjusted as well. There will be 5 rounds, similar to hockey or soccer shootouts. Each team will line up at the 5-yard line, and have 1 play to score. the team with the most points after 5 rounds (or before if the other team is mathematically unable to catch up) will win the game. If the two teams are still tied after 5 round, there will be sudden death rounds, with each team going once until one team wins.
There have been many attempts to begin a new league, including the original XFL and the Alliance of American Football that was unable to even finish their initial season not even a year ago. But with prices of NFL football games almost as much as a mortgage payment for a family to attend, I am looking forward to attending some of these games and enjoying football after the NFL’s season is over. Obviously the talent will not be at the level of the NFL, but it looks like Vince McMahon has learned from his mistakes, plus there is more talent for football teams than there was 19 years ago.
So what do you think? Are you excited to see more football? Or do you think that this will end just like every other professional football league not named the NFL since the AFL joined in the 1960s? Let me know in the comments below!