Despite the XFL’s best efforts, it doesn’t look like the upstart league will be claiming the professional football crown anytime soon. That doesn’t mean the NFL can rest on its laurels, though. While the XFL has struggled in terms of on-field quality, some of their rules changes, like those surrounding the kickoff, have been a success.
In the NFL, player safety initiates have essentially eliminated kick returns from the game. Could following in the XFL’s footsteps make the kickoffs and returns relevant again?
The XFL’s relevant rule changes
While the first iteration of the XFL veered too far towards professional wrestling and ultimately failed, the new version of the league is playing things more down the middle. Although there are some notable rule changes, the game is still, at its core, professional football.
This season, the XFL is promoting three different sets of rules. There are gameplay innovations, like new kickoff rules and point-after attempts, timing changes, which are designed to avoid four-hour slogs, and common-sense rules, which seem to take more direct aim at some notable NFL flaws.
Understandably, most fans have focused on the gameplay innovations. While some may find them gimmicky, the XFL’s kickoffs and extra points don’t veer too far into the absurd; instead, they return excitement to plays that have become mere formalities in the NFL game.
Could the XFL’s kickoff come to the NFL
Over the past several years, the NFL has slowly changed kickoffs to make the game safer. While the efforts have worked, they’ve also changed the realities of special teams play; onside kicks have become even rarer, and most kickoffs simply end in a touchback.
The XFL has minimized the safety issue by moving the action down the field. While the kicker still remains in his original position, both the kickoff and return teams line up five yards apart. They can’t engage, however, until the returner fields the ball. That alignment, combined with more generous touchbacks, combine for a perfect storm; kickers are incentivized to keep the ball in play, and return men are given a chance to work their magic.
The NFL, it seems, has noticed the differences. While the league’s competition committee hasn’t officially discussed changing the kickoff rules, Packers President Mark Murphy is “intrigued” by what the XFL is doing. “Obviously it makes it safer because you’re taking the speed out of it,” he told Mark Maske of the Washington Post.
Stephen Jones of the Dallas Cowboys echoed the sentiment. “We actually looked at one [Monday]. We looked at the kickoff,” he told his team’s official website. “But it was just to put it in front of us so we could be thinking about it. Certainly, your eyes are always open to what anybody is doing when it comes to the game of football. I’m not ready to have thoughts yet [on the XFL kickoff rule]. I mean, I’ve got thoughts, but I’m not ready to verbalize them yet.”
The kickoff rule could be the XFL’s lasting legacy
Throughout the history of American professional sports, upstart leagues tried to innovate and changed the course of their respective games. While it’s too early to tell, the XFL could have done that with their kickoffs
Jersey numbers, the scoreboard clock, and two-point conversions, for example, originated in the AFL. On the hardwood, the NBA owes three-point shots and the Slam Dunk Contest to the ABA. The XFL doesn’t deserve to be mentioned alongside those leagues just yet, but the message is clear: a good idea is a good idea, even if it comes from a less than conventional source.
Only time will tell how the modern XFL will be remembered. If the league can save NFL kickoffs, though, it will earn a place in the history books.