The NFL season officially came to a close last Sunday, as the Kansas City Chiefs knocked off the San Francisco 49ers to bring capture the Lombardi Trophy.
So that's it for football until training camp opens in July, right?
"Not so fast," says the XFL.
That's right, the brand new XFL kicks off on Saturday, beginning a 10-week regular season, a two-week postseason, and a championship game slated for April 26. An entire season of football in just 79 days.
But this isn't your father's football. In fact, the XFL is implementing rules that they believe will change the game and make it more viewer-friendly and entertaining.
Here's how the league's official website sees it:
We're evolving things just a bit. Less stall, more ball is how we describe it: a fast-paced game with fewer play stoppages. We've made timing changes, common sense rules changes, and created five gameplay innovations that will raise the excitement level and minimize the downtime.
Per the official site, the XFL has come up with five gameplay innovations, five timing changes, and five common sense rules.
I won't go through every single one of these "innovations," but there are a few that could translate well to the NFL. You can check out the full set of XFL rules here, but here are the 5 innovations that could serve the NFL well in the future.
For a long time in the NFL, extra-point plays were just an afterthought that most fans would rather get up and grab another cold one than watch. The ball was spotted at the two-yard line, players would seem to put in little to no effort, and the short kick would almost always go through the uprights.
The NFL tried to shake things up a little bit in recent years, moving the extra point back to the 15-yard line, making it slightly more of a real play.
But the XFL is adding to the intrigue of the game by making extra points worth one, two, or three points. After scoring a touchdown, teams can elect to lineup from the two, five, or 10-yard line, and if they score, they're awarded one, two, or three points, respectively.
This changes so much of the game and brings a new level of strategy into the fold. In the XFL, an 18-point lead can be erased by two touchdowns. Plus, will teams always go for three, considering lining up at the 10 gives you more room to work with for the extra play, rather than being so limited by the back line of the end zone if you run a passing play from the two-yard line.
Double Forward Pass
Now this … this is what the XFL is all about. Why throw one forward pass when you can run TWO forward passes?
The caveat here is that the ball needs to still be behind the line of scrimmage for the second forward pass to happen, but just the fact that any screen pass to a running back or receiver could end up turning into a deep ball is simply tremendous.
Imagine Daniel Jones throwing a screen to Saquon Barkley, who dances around in the backfield and then throws a bomb to Sterling Shepard for a touchdown.
The NFL comes close to this, as you can still run a double pass, so long as the first pass is backwards. But NFL teams now tend to sniff out these plays once they see the ball moving backwards behind the line of scrimmage.
The NFL's set of overtime rules are, quite simply, not good. At least now both teams get a chance to possess the ball unless the first team scores a touchdown, but the NFL has also lowered the time limit to from 15 to 10 minutes, increasing the odds that a game could end in a tie.
A tie. In professional football.
Just what we all want to say. This is football, not soccer (football?), we don't want to ever see a tie.
At least the NCAA overtime rules are a little bit more fun, with un-timed possessions from the 25-yard line. But the XFL is taking that a step further with the "shootout style" format.
Both teams will play five "Rounds," staged in alternating single-play possessions from the five-yard line. Think of it as an NHL shootout, with teams taking turns trying to score from five yards out.
Sign me up.
Dedicated Ball-Spotting Official
I want to say this as loudly and as clearly as possible: the act of spotting a football is one of the dumbest things in professional sports.
In a game like football, where every inch matters and a team could come up short on first down by the width of an index card, the ball is spotted by officials who are standing near the sidelines, who then try their very best to run in on an exactly straight line and say "Yeah, here's good," guessing an exact spot that they saw from about 8 yards away.
At least in the XFL, there will be one dedicated official whose only job is to correctly and quickly spot the ball and keep the game moving.
It's a small step forward, but it's a good one.
Coaches are not very good at challenging plays. A lot of times emotions get the best of them and they overreact to a call that didn't go their way, or they listen and take advice from the player involved, who is always convinced he caught the ball, even if the replay clearly shows he didn't.
The XFL has eliminated the coaches challenge and will initiate all replays from an official up in the booth. This way, there's no limit as to how many plays can go to replay, like in the NFL where a team can challenge once and then maybe get a second if they're successful. Hopefully, with this way of doing things, all plays that need to be reviewed will be, and the ones that don't, won't be.
So here's to a successful new iteration of the XFL. In the process of writing this article, I've learned that I'm a huge XFL fan. That's something I just discovered about myself.