The reboot of Vince McMahon’s eight team XFL Spring football league is coming in 30 days, including with the Tampa Bay Vipers franchise. And on Tuesday, the league unveiled new rules designed to create more excitement and speed up the game.
The short version is: the XFL has new and exciting rules for kickoffs, punts, faster clock/timing and other variations or wrinkles for the games.
Former NFL Head of Officiating, Dean Blandino, is now overseeing the XFL officials and their new rules/ policies.
And Blandino did a online and on social media tutorial on Tuesday for the rules that are different from college and NFL football. And, he gave the rationale behind them. An example, of probably the most intriguing one is the kickoff, as he explained here:
This is less stall, more ball. See the rules live when the XFL kicks off Sat, Feb. 8. #ForTheLoveOfFootball
— XFL (@xfl2020) January 7, 2020
As Blandino laid out, unlike their first XFL playing in 2001, when opening possession was determined by two players on opposite sides of a football running at a sprint and trying to grab it first, there will be an actual kickoff, but with changes from what you are used to.
Now, the XFL will try something innovative to not only create excitement, but also help with player safety on the kickoff. Instead of allowing the kicking team to run full sprint at the receiving blockers and returner, the coverage team will line up at their own 30 with the kicking team lining up only five yards in front of them at the 35.
However, the only players who are allowed to move are the kicker, kicking off and the returner until he has either caught the ball or the ball has been live on the ground for at least three seconds. That’s when the blocking players between the 30 in the 35 can move or try to make the tackle.
Also, if the kicker kicks the ball out of the end zone or out of bounds it will automatically come up to the 35-yard line or to the out-of-bounds spot if it’s greater than the 35 for the receiving team.
Teams may also a traditional onside kick under the NFL rules, but they must designate that to the officials prior to, and then teams will traditionally lineup for the onside try.
As for punts and returns, the XFL will not allow the punting team to leave the line of scrimmage until the ball is kicked and the defenders over the top of gunners will not be allowed to go into the backfield until it is kicked. This is to give a much bigger advantage to the returner to make a big play
Just as with the kickoff, if the punt team kicks out of bounds inside the 35-yard line it will come back to the 35 or will go to the spot, if it’s greater than the 35-yard line for the receiving team.
If the ball lands in the end zone or is all the way out of the endzone on a punt it will also come to the 35 yard line. Clearly, the XFL is trying to encourage more excitement with punt returns and a fair catch will be allowed, although it is greatly de-emphasized, now.
Also, they want teams to think more about going for it on fourth down, as the punt favors the return team so greatly.
Next, Blandino made clear that an XFL receiver will, just like in college, only need one foot down or an equivalent for a catch. This differs from the two feet necessary in the NFL.
The XFL also announced that there will be no coaches challenges for replays, however, again like college, all plays will be under review. And, the replay official has the right to initiate certain reviews, even if the officials didn’t rule it on the field like fumble / no fumble, or out of bounds or not, etc.
The XFL also has interesting “running clock” timing rules that will differ from the NFL and college, in that incomplete passes, penalties and plays out of bounds will not stop the clock at all until the final two minutes.
Further the XFL will use a 25 second play clock only and designate one specific official whose sole job it is to make sure that the ball is spotted quickly,
Once inside the 2-minute warning if a play ends in the field of play the clock will only stop for that official to spot the ball and once five Seconds runoff the play clock, it will start again.
To increase scoring chances, on an incomplete or out of bounds play inside of 2 minutes, the clock will stop just like it does for the NFL and college football.
The new Spring league will allow field goal attempts, but not have kicking extra points.
Instead, the offensive team will have a chance to run one play (conversion) but choose to run the play from the 1, 5 or 10 yard line. They will receive 1, 2 or 3 points depending on where the play started. Also, the defensive team would be able to score 1, 2 or 3 points on a fumble or INT return.
Finally, the XFL will also take another very interesting idea to playing out their overtimes.
Instead of the college rule of each team getting a possession from the 25-yard line to score a touchdown or field goal. Or, the NFL “modified sudden death rules” that don’t guarantee that both teams touch the ball. if the first team scores a touchdown (like what happened to the Saints Sunday when the Vikings scored a TD on the opening possession), the XFL will give both teams chances to possess it in a 5 round OT.
The XFL will utilize a format like the NHL post-overtime “shootout” where each team will have the ball spotted on the 5-yard line with the offense getting to run one play.
No kicks will be allowed.
If there is a defensive penalty on the play that is unsuccessful, then ball is moved to the 1-yard line for re-try. If there is a second defensive penalty in overtime, then the offensive team will automatically be awarded it’s two points for that round. And any subsequent defensive penalty, will again be the automatic awarding of two points during the overtime to the offense.
And, importantly, the defense cannot score, even if there is a possible fumble or interception return. The play in the XFL will be ruled dead or over.
The two teams will continue playing the five round OT until one has an insurmountable lead over the other. If the two teams are tied after five rounds, it’s essentially sudden death of two point rounds until there is a leader / winner.
Some of these rules will create excitement and also, controversy, and that’s what McMahon, XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck (above), and Blandino are intending to have.
The Vipers are coached by former Bears coach Mark Trestman and will be playing home games at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
Time for concern after XFL TV ratings declined again last week?
For the second consecutive week, the XFL televison ratings continued to slide in the wrong direction. And, the troubling part is that if the trend continues, the XFL will have no leverage for sponsors and revenue to keep it going long term.
First, here are the specifics on the bad viewership news: According to Showbuzzdaily.com all four XFL broadcasts last Saturday and Sunday afternoon had lower ratings in their slot than the previous week.
That includes the Tampa Bay Vipers home debut against Houston, which was the early game on ABC Saturday. And, while that window had 400,000 less viewers than week 2, the bigger concern is ABC has lost almost 40% of the audience from the 3.3 million average that watched their Week one debut game on Saturday afternoon.
The ratings downward trend is following the same pattern as last Spring’s Alliance of American Football, where the ratings dwindled to under a million fans for broadcasts by week five and eventually the league shut down after just eight weeks. This was in part because of concerns on how the AAF could make any revenue, through television in specific, if they had very little audience for the end of year one and to sell off of for year two.
Now, WWE owner Vince McMahon, who folded the XFL the first time in 2001 in large part because the television audience plummeted over the course of the first month or so of its existence and never recovered, has the same issue in 2020.
And, as we wrote previously, this audience decline while negative is far less McMahon’s original XFL and it’s first season of 2001. That’s when, it debuted on its first Saturday night on NBC with a massive 10.1 rating, which translated 18 years ago to more than 9.5 viewers on network TV. A Smashing success.
However, the XFL’s ratings plummeted starting the following week and had fewer than 25% of that opening night audience just a month later with the games still being shown on a Saturday night coveted slot on NBC. It doomed the league from a P.R. and sponsor standpoint and McMahon pulled the plug.
Now, in 2020, McMahon reportedly has money to burn and is apparently prepared to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in year one. So, even if the XFL TV ratings continue come down significantly, it will not spell the end of the XFL (like it did nearly 20 years ago) after just a single season.
At least, that’s what we think.
Vipers better but drop third straight game in home opener
Although their play was improved offensively, in the end it wasn’t enough for the Tampa Bay Vipers after they dropped their third straight XFL game to start the season 34 – 27 to Houston Saturday afternoon in Tampa.
Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, as Houston scored early in the fourth quarter to go up by seven and held off the Viper the rest of the way.
The Vipers offense came to life after they had failed to score in the offensive touchdown in either of their first two games. Both of which were losses on the road. Quarterback Taylor Cornelius, subbing for starter Aaron Murray who missed his second straight game with an injured foot, once again had modest numbers 16-31 for 193 yards 1 TD, 1 INT.
However, he did pull the game even at 18 – 18 at the half after scoring on a one yard QB sneak and Tampa Bay got the two-point conversion.
Still, the former Oklahoma State quarterbacks day was inconsistent and the home crowd at Raymond James Stadium began to chant the name “Flowers, Flowers” for former USF Star Quarterback Quinton Flowers, who played sparingly for the third straight game in a reserve role.
Flowers got Tampa Bay’s first offensive TD on the young season with a seven yard run in the first quarter, but only played QB sparingly in the game, again. He was just 4-6 for 57 yards passing with 29 yards on six attempts on the ground.
Meanwhile, the former Temple star Walker found receiver Cam Phillips for the third of their three touchdown hookups from 17 yards out to give Houston a 34 – 27 lead with just over 10 minutes to play. Phillips devastated Jerry Glanville’s Vipers defense for 194 yards receiving on eight catches with the three TDs.
The Vipers look like they were going to have a chance to re-tie the game when Cornelius (above) completed a pass to his top target on the day, Jaylen Tolliver, at the two-yard line. However just like a week ago in Seattle when a critical fourth quarter drive stalled and Tampa Bay came away with no points in a 17 – 9 lost the Dragons, the Vipers got no points after Cornelius threw incomplete on second, third and fourth downs.
Many in the crowd and observers in the media were curious, as to why coach Marc Trestman didn’t go to Flowers as the dual threat running QB to at least try something different on one of those plays? Flowers even questioned why he did not play more after the game to the media.
The Vipers got the ball one final time, but Cornelius was picked off near midfield with just over a minute left to seal the defeat.
The Vipers played the first spring professional football game in Tampa, since the closing of the USFL 1985 season. That’s when Steve Spurrier’s Tampa Bay Bandits were a popular item at Old Tampa Stadium. Saturday’s home opener drew and announced crowd of 18,117.
However it’s little consolation for former Bears and CFL coach Trestman and his team, as they remain winless on the season. The L.A. Wildcats playing Sunday are the other 0-2 team in the league, currently.
And, you have to wonder whether Trestman will be forced to go to Flowers for the start when they host the D.C. Defenders next week.