February 8th can’t get here soon enough.
That’s the day the XFL will kick-off it’s inaugural season with all eight teams in action.
The XFL has been lurking around the perimeter of the football world, and some worry about the shadow it may cast over the CFL’s roster creation.
I’m not one of those people myself, as the (approximately) 560 new football jobs aren’t likely to hurt the quality of the Canadian game. There are far more players who want to play than there are jobs for players to earn. That won’t change.
There are currently more than 500 NCAA football programs, so one extra guy from each graduating class hardly seems like a substantial decrease in potential greatness.
The news that made me eager to watch was how the XFL has liberally borrowed from the CFL rulebook. They say it’s to make the game more exciting to the NFL fans that might tune in.
The full rules are available at XFL.com but there are a few I wanted to highlight that will seem strange to an American, but Canadian fans will easily recognize.
First, the XFL is adopting the common sense rule of only needing one foot in bounds to complete a catch. The rule has long been enforced in this way in college programs but the NFL requires you to make the catch with your feet as well as your hands. In the XFL — as in the CFL — any body part making contact in bounds will now be considered a completion.
Secondly, they have adopted a similar version of stoppage time, although it will be used from the two-minute warning rather than the three minutes Canadians are accustomed to. In an effort to make this seem sexier, they are calling this “The Comeback Period.” In addition to the implementation of a 25-second play clock, no longer will a team be able to win having played a great 58 minutes of football.
Anything out of bounds or incomplete will be a full clock stoppage, and any in-bounds play will see the clock stop until the ball is spotted and five seconds wind off of the play clock. A team can now only utilize a fresh set of downs to kill one minute instead of 2:20, assuming no timeouts are used.
Also adopted and slightly modified are the punt rules, where players cannot release across the line of scrimmage until after the ball is kicked. The modification comes to the gunner position. The gunners are also restricted to lateral movement only along the line of scrimmage prior to the ball being kicked. This should substantially reduce the number of fair catches we see that drive this CFL fan crazy.
There are also rules that seem a little weird at first and for the most part they focus on the kicking game.
There will be no such thing as a coffin corner punt in the XFL because any punt that goes out of bounds inside the 35-yard line or into the opponent’s end zone will be placed at the 35-yard line. In Canada you can get the ball on the 35 following a single point, but the XFL will let you have it for free.
This will make being an XFL punter a very difficult job, and coaches will likely prioritize accuracy over raw strength or power. As an aside, there is no truth to the rumour (started right here in this sentence) that Rob Maver is pursuing a job in the XFL.
The XFL seems to also have little use for kickers after touchdowns as they have eliminated the single point convert by way of kicking for it. Now, teams will have a choice of a one, two, or three point convert by way of a play from the two, five, and ten-yard lines respectively.
All of a sudden, you can catch up very quickly utilizing a potential nine point touchdown.
The kickoff rules also seem a little off at first but will be intriguing to see how they are schemed. The 35 yard touchback rule is still in effect although, if the ball bounces out of bounds, it will be spotted at the 15 yard line.
The crazy thing to me is that the return team will line up on their own 30, and the cover team will line up on the opposition 35. None of the players on the 30 and 35 yard lines are allowed to move until the ball is caught by the returner or has been on the ground for at least three seconds. The idea is to eliminate the huge running start players would get with a traditional kickoff setup.
There also has to be at least three players from each team positioned outside the hash marks. This setup represents such a big departure from traditional rules, it will be very interesting to watch from a purist standpoint to see how it changes the most boring play in American football.
The last crazy addition is the “Double Forward Pass” where as long as the ball hasn’t crossed the line of scrimmage, it can be passed forward a second time. The hope is that this will eliminate discussion of a lateral versus an incompletion that currently occurs. Look for a variety of gadget plays and defenses needing to play a little tighter man coverage at the line.
Those are just a few of the things that stood out for me when looking through the rules for the fledgling league. With the season scheduled to end on April 26th, the XFL might provide a perfect familiar feel for your post-Super Bowl football needs as we wait for CFL training camps to open in May.