The XFL season will be upon us next month, greeted here in the same manner as every other startup league in professional football since the late, great AFL. Won’t watch a minute of it.
Two reasons: Out-of-season football never works, and we won’t be watching the best in the business. Instead of Lamar Jackson, George Kittle and Christian McCaffrey, we’ll be getting Johnny Nobody, JJ Vagrant and Anonymous Jones.
A few of the XFL’s shake-it-up rules are going to make the NFL look hopelessly lame. If the elder league beholds such innovation and insists on maintaining its own version, it will have no reasonable defense.
The New Orleans Saints got screwed out of the playoffs last week by an NFL overtime rule, the same one that spoiled the Super Bowl three years ago (New England over Atlanta) and so many other important games over the years. Win the coin toss, score a touchdown, game over — are you kidding? How is it even possible that only one team gets the ball?
The XFL won’t stand for this. Perhaps its solution is a little bit silly: Overtime will consist of five “rounds,” staged in alternating single-play possessions from the 5-yard line. Each successful score is worth 2 points, and if the teams are tied after five rounds, play continues until one team is leading at the conclusion of a round.
Whatever. Both teams get the ball. That automatically makes it a smashing success..
In the NFL, the league office made the colossal mistake of creating an elaborate New York headquarters for the purpose of reviewing replays. Thus launched the tedious procession of challenges, deliberation and the pathetic sight of on-field officials donning headphones to be part of the process.
Forget all that. In the XFL, there will be no challenges, no long-distance phone calls, no headphones, no “replay experts” appearing in a corner of your TV screen. All replays will be initiated by an officating booth on site — this is so crucial — with the idea of making a decision as quickly as fans can surmise at home. So forget going to a commercial every time there’s a replay review. And tear down those useless replay centers in all the major sports. Turn each one into a nice delicatessen.
The kickoff will always be one of the most exciting plays in football, capable of reversing the momentum in a few thrilling seconds, but the NFL doesn’t get that. In that safety-obsessed league, we get touchbacks 95% of the time and absolutely nothing happens. The XFL is wary of concussions and, according to Commissioner Oliver Luck (Andrew’s father), will adjust coverage-team positioning to minimize high-speed collisions. But most important, the ball will be kicked off from the 25-yard line. Thank you.
Some of the other new rules might or might not charm the public: receivers needing to have only one foot inbounds (as it plays in college), inside-the-helmet speakers for all position players (instead of just the quarterbacks) and no extra-point kicks. (A scoring team can go for one point from the 2-yard line, two points from the 5 or three points from the 10.)
For certain, it will be different — in ways that just might awaken the NFL to creative thought.