WATCH: ‘Safer and More Exciting’ XFL Kickoff is the Future of Football
The XFL may have started as an aggressive, irreverent NFL alternative, but the Vince McMahon-founded league has morphed into something else in its third iteration. The league is now owned by another icon with WWE ties, but Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s XFL is a lot different than McMahon’s. One of the league’s current purposes is to be a testing ground for potential new rules thanks to an NFL-XFL partnership agreement. And if the success of the new XFL kickoff rule is any indication, this partnership could change the future of football for the better.
The new XFL kickoff rule
The new XFL kickoff is somewhat familiar but quite different from what football fans are familiar with.
On an XFL kickoff, the kicker tees up the ball at his own 30-yard line, just like an NFL kicker would do. The major difference, though, is that the kick coverage team and the kick return team line up on the receiving team’s 35- and 30-yard line, respectively. The kick returner stands near the goal line, just like on an NFL kickoff.
The next significant difference is that once the kicker boots the ball, the two teams don’t take off on a dead sprint toward each other like the two armies in Braveheart. Outside of the kicker and returner, no one can move until the returner catches the kick.
Once the two sides release, the blocking and kick coverage looks almost exactly like it would in an NFL game, just without the high-speed, injury-inducing collisions.
This innovation has made one of the most dangerous plays in football much safer and also more exciting at the same time.
Sam Schwartzstein, a former Stanford offensive lineman who helped develop the new XFL kickoff rules for the last iteration of the league, shared some stats at the beginning of the new season.
According to Schwartzstein on Twitter, the XFL has had 400 full-speed kickoffs with the new style. More than 90% of those kicks have produced returns, there have been two returns for touchdowns, and the average field position is the 31-yard line.
Most importantly, Schwartzstein reports zero injuries on XFL kick returns.
In the inaugural XFL back in 2001, the league replaced the coin toss with a race between two players to recover a loose ball. Needless to say, that never caught on at the NFL level.
However, the new XFL kickoff rule does have a chance to become the norm at the highest level of the sport. That’s because of an NFL-XFL partnership forged between the two leagues when Dwayne Johnson and his business partner, Dany Garcia, took over.
While the XFL won’t be the official minor league of the NFL, it will be a testing ground for rules and innovations.
In a press release ahead of the 2023 season, the XFL announced they will “collaborate with the NFL on select innovation programs to further expand the game of football and create increased opportunities for player development both on and off the field.”
The primary focus of the NFL-XFL partnership will be health and safety. However, it also “may include international football development and scouting, as well as officiating, including the testing of different game rules for player protection and enhanced overall play, and of different technologies to enhance officiating.”
The XFL kickoff rule should be the first shining example of the NFL-XFL partnership bearing fruit, as the league should enact this change as soon as the 2023 NFL season.