Press Box: XFL’s altered rules make football safer and more exciting

Illustration by Karly Andersen

Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor

When people hear XFL, many think of the wild style of play from its lone season in 2001. When the league made its return this year, many were skeptical about how successful it would be.

The XFL is an alternate football league founded by Vince McMahon, whose season followed the NFL’s. He relaunched the league this year after it folded in 2001 due to low television ratings. 

The league’s reboot is going a lot better than its first go-around in the early 2000s. The games are similar to traditional football, but also altered some rules, appealing to the casual fan and the diehard alike. 

“It is easy to be skeptical, because it’s just now getting started,” former NFL tight end Fred Davis told The L.A. Times last June. “You’re fighting the big giant — the NFL.”

Well, the XFL was a hit almost immediately after kicking off on Feb. 8 with the DC Defenders and the Seattle Dragons. In Washington D.C., more than 17,000 fans packed Audi Field, home of the MLS’ D.C. United, for the opener against Seattle. 

“I thought [the environment] was awesome,” Dragons quarterback Brandon Silvers told The Washington Post. “It’s a soccer stadium, but it looked damn good as a football stadium. They definitely got a nice home crowd.”

The XFL shares many of the same rules as college football, but the league also adjusted a few, like altering the kickoff to make it safer for the returner. In traditional football, the kicking team’s players all line up on their own 35-yard line. Once the ball is kicked, they run down to try to make a play on the ball or tackle the returner. 

But in the XFL, the kicking team’s players line up five yards away from the returning team’s blockers at the 35-yard line. They can’t run until the returner touches the ball. This rule made the game safer without sacrificing entertainment — to the contrary, it makes the game more exciting. The kicking team can be penalized if they kick a touchback, and the ball is placed at the 35-yard line, whereas in traditional football the ball is placed at the 25-yard line. 

The new kickoff is a move in the right direction for a league that wants to set itself apart from traditional football and the NFL. But the NFL should also consider implementing some of the XFL’s innovative changes. For over the last few years, the NFL has discussed eliminating the kickoff from its rules and giving the “receiving” team the ball at the 25-yard line. Instead, the NFL should adopt the XFL’s kickoff — it’s safer and more exciting because players are more inclined to return the kick, and the kicking team is likely not going to kick a touchback. 

This year in the NFL, only 36% of kickoffs were returned, whereas 10 years ago 76.4% were returned. In the XFL’s first weekend of play, 91.4% were returned with the new kickoff format. 

Not only did the XFL change the kickoff rules, but also the extra point procedures. In traditional football, an extra point is a kick with the ball spotted at the 2-yard line, while in the XFL it isn’t a kick, but what looks like a 2-point conversion in traditional football. 

After a score in the XFL, a 1-point extra point is from the 2-yard line. Teams can also elect to go for a 2 or even a 3-point conversion instead of the extra point. The 2-point conversion takes place from the 5-yard line, and the 3-point conversion is from the 10-yard line. 

The XFL took notes on what to do this time around and improved in its reboot. Now the NFL should take pointers from its unconventional peer.

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