XFL Takeaways: Which Rules Could Work in NFL?

Jordan Cohn
February 10, 2020 - 3:07 pm

Of the primary reasons to watch the XFL during its opening weekend — be it the players, the coaches or even the outcomes of the games — perhaps none provided as much intrigue as the various rules and practices that differentiate the league from the NFL. Based on the ratings and the overall response on social media, it seems that the XFL’s rules were praised much more than they were criticized, and not much controversy arose from a successful opening weekend.

Whether the NFL will adopt any of these rules is a question that can only be answered with speculation for the time being, but there is consensus among Week 1 viewers that certain features of the league clicked immediately while others’ practicality is yet to be determined.

Here are some of the aspects of the XFL that came into play in its opening week.

The Good

Replay Transparency

There aren’t too many reasons to oppose this feature of the XFL in this or any football league. The amount of times that NFL viewers were left scratching their heads -- or for more diehard fans, screaming at their TVs in tears -- seems to beg some sort of solution so that the average audience can understand why certain rulings were made.

This problem would be solved if the XFL’s transparency during replays carried over to the NFL. A perfect example, as posted by former NFL punter Pat McAfee, helped fans to see what goes into a replay review with a behind-the-scenes look at the replay booth and the communication that takes place between the on-field officials and the analysts upstairs.

Though the NFL took a step in the right direction with allowing coach’s challenges (which, ironically, the XFL disallows) on pass interference calls, the football universe was largely disappointed at the repeated failure coaches experienced when attempting to overturn an interference call. What, exactly, went into each of those decisions would be incredibly helpful for fans to understand what makes a play interference and what doesn’t and would knock out a massive issue in today’s NFL.

Kickoffs

My first reaction to the XFL kickoff is that it just looks so unnatural.

With safety as the primary reason behind this rule change, the way the players set up makes sense. No more flying recklessly down the field at full speed will help to prevent dangerous collisions. There will also be much fewer touchbacks given the 35-yard penalty against the kicking team if the ball reaches the opponent’s end zone.

Former NFL player Dustin Fox (of “Bull and Fox” on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland) commented that the rule is smart and the majority of former players and fans alike seemed to agree.

The other thing that it seems to prevent, however, is one of the most exciting plays that the NFL has to offer. The wall created by the defense in such close proximity to the kicker makes a return seem very difficult. Though this may be an early conclusion, it’s worth noting that only a couple of the kick returns got past midfield on the return. That said, it allows the offense to take the field more often, which some people may prefer. It’s not like kick returns occur frequently in the NFL, anyway.

The Bad

None, so far. We haven’t seen all of the rules play out in all given possibilities, so some of the rules still have time to create controversy.

DC Defenders DB Desmond Lawrence breaks up a pass.
Photo credit Getty Images

To Be Determined:

One-, Two- and Three-Point Conversions

If you’re an NFL purist, this one could rub you the wrong way. The ability for a team to opt for a safe, practically free point after scoring a touchdown has not been met with overwhelming criticism, and moving the extra point back in 2015 was the league’s way of adding a little bit more difficulty to the play.

That didn’t do it for the XFL, however, and the implementation of different conversion scenarios makes the “extra point” anything but a freebie. In fact, teams were fairly unsuccessful in tacking on the extra points and didn’t even bother with a three-point conversion, though no game situation particularly warranted attempting it.

Some may feel as though an extra point should be easier to come by if the success rate is as low as it was in Week 1. But that extra excitement, where no point comes easily, is just another factor that makes the XFL unique. Something that bridges the gap between 36% and 92% (the NFL’s extra point success rate) may be more ideal, but what that play would be isn’t immediately easy to figure out.

Live Mics/Interviews

For the most part, this was pretty entertaining. It was cool seeing the players interact with the fans through the camera after a big play, with teammates hopping into the shot at different times to enjoy the facetime and the fun.

But the downsides are pretty easy to see. For one, the first f-bomb was dropped by Seattle’s Dillon Day in the very first game of the league’s reboot. Though these players are aware that their reactions will be broadcast live, it’s a given that these things will sometimes just happen. And with all of the emphasis on keeping locker room talk private -- such as when St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Shildt was caught live on social media with some expletive language -- there are clear questions at hand.

Some of the mic’d up content just wasn’t exciting either, as coaches Marc Trestman and Jim Zorn had fairly dull reactions and appearances on the sidelines and in the locker room, and Twitter users responded with their thoughts. Translating this feature to the NFL would take a ton of player discipline knowing that each game is broadcast live on national television, and it might not be worth the payoff.

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