By Mike Kord, Special to the SeattlePI
Updated 9:20 am PST, Friday, February 7, 2020
- The XFL’s Seattle Dragons.
The XFL’s Seattle Dragons.
Image 1 of / 23
Image 1 of 23
The XFL’s Seattle Dragons.
The XFL’s Seattle Dragons.
Less stall. More ball.
That’s the motto of the XFL, the reboot of the short-lived league that kicks off Feb. 8 when the Seattle Dragons visit the DC Defenders.
It’s going to feel a little strange watching football as winter turns to spring. And some of the rules will make you feel like you’re watching an offbeat Wes Anderson film.
The XFL – the same league that played one season (2001) before disbanding – is back, and it is instilling 15 rule differences from the NFL to encourage the return game, speed up play and add excitement.
It’s going to be … different.
Because nothing says excitement like a crew of confused referees huddled together to see who remembers where to spot the ball on a touchback.
To be fair, the league put significant thought into its innovative rulebook, and there is a rationale for each entry.
Read on to make the potentially confusing understandable.
The league’s goal is to incentivize returns while reducing injuries. Kickers will kick from their 30-yard line and must kick the ball in the air between the return team’s 20-yard line and goal line.
The coverage team will line up on the return team’s 35-yard line; the return team will line up on its 30.
Each team must have three players outside both hash marks. Players can’t move until the ball is caught or an official signals that three seconds have passed upon the ball hitting the ground.
Out-of-bounds kicks and those that hit short of the 20-yard line will result in an illegal procedure penalty, and the ball will be spotted at the kicking team’s 45-yard line.
If the ball is kicked into the end zone and downed, the receiving team gets the ball at its own 35.
If the ball bounces before crossing the goal line and then goes out of the end zone or is downed in the end zone – the ball will be spotted at the 15.
If the return team touches the ball and it goes out of bounds, the ball will be spotted where it left the field of play.
Surprise onside kicks are not allowed but kicking teams can attempt them – using NFL rules – if they call it first.
Traditionalists will shake their head at this one. Touchdown-scoring teams will have the option of running a play from the two-, five- or 10-yard line for scoring one, two or three points. No kicks allowed. Just think – teams can score what will essentially be a nine-point play.
Double forward pass
If a forward pass is completed behind the line of scrimmage, the receiver can still throw the ball downfield.
The final nail has been hammered into the coffin of the coffin corner. Punts that go out of bounds between the 35-yard line and the goal line are considered a “major” touchback, and the ball will be spotted on the 35-yard line.
Punts that land in the end zone or go out of the end zone will also result in the ball being spotted at the 35.
Coverage teams cannot release past the line of scrimmage until the ball is kicked.
Gunners must line up on the line of scrimmage and are permitted to move laterally between the snap and the punt. Defenders over the gunner can’t cross the line of scrimmage until the ball is punted.
These changes are designed to incentivize coaches to go for it on fourth down and returners to forgo the fair catch.
Like an NHL shootout, overtime will consist of five single-play rounds to break a tie. Each team will alternate possessions from their opponent’s five-yard line. You get one play to score. The team with the most points after five rounds wins, unless:
one team is mathematically eliminated in the third or fourth round;
or the score is still tied, in which case additional rounds will ensue until one team has more points. No game will end in a tie.
Each overtime score is worth two points. Defensive penalties will move the ball to the one-yard line. There is no change to offensive penalty rules.
The offense will have a 25-second play clock after the ball is spotted.
The clock will run on incomplete passes and plays that go out of bounds – unless there are two minutes or less remaining in each half.
Inside the two-minute warning, the game clock will be stopped for five seconds on plays that end in the field of play. If the ball carrier gets out of bounds – or a pass falls incomplete – the clock stops when the ball is snapped. This will also prevent teams from taking a knee to run out the clock.
One foot in
Only one body part (foot, hand, knee, etc.) must be in bounds while the ball is being caught for a completion.
One official will be dedicated to one thing – quickly spotting the ball after each play.
Each team is allotted two one-minute timeouts per half.
So long, red flag
All plays will be subject to review by the replay official. Coaches challenges are not permitted.
Reviewable plays will mostly be limited to determine scores, possession, boundary lines, line of scrimmage, line to gain, 12 men on the field, correct down (“Finally!” say Missouri fans), player ejections and game clock.
More coach-to-player communication
Offensive skill players will wear helmet receivers that allow a coach to talk to them. Broadcast partners will have permission to air these discussions. Current NFL quarterbacks are outfitted with such helmets, but communication is cut off with 15 seconds on the play clock.
Players (offensive linemen) will be ruled illegally downfield if they go three yards downfield before a passer throws a forward pass across the line of scrimmage. The NFL rule stipulates that a lineman cannot go one yard beyond the line of scrimmage unless blocking while the pass is being thrown.
The break will be just 10 minutes.