The Newly Revived XFL Brings Football to the Spring
The NFL is one of the most popular sports leagues in the world. Not only is the Super Bowl the top-watched U.S. TV event every year (99.9 million viewers tuned in February 2 for Super Bowl LIV), but the league’s average per-game attendance of more than 66,000 is No. 1 in the nation. So at the season’s end, it’s natural for the faithful to feel a loss from the absence of pad-slapping action, soaring spirals and leaping touchdown catches.
Thankfully, the newly revived XFL pro football league is filling that need with swift battles and budding new stars. A reboot of WWE CEO Vince McMahon’s ill-fated 2001 league that lasted one year, the XFL circa 2020 seems off to a more promising start.
Eight teams, divided into East and West divisions, make up the league, currently midway through a 10-game regular season. Week 1 ratings for three of the four games topped every NBA and college basketball matchup from the week prior.
Some XFL innovations have already gained traction with fans. The most novel among them brings viewers more deeply into games through audio: Coach-player communications are wired with microphones, as are discussions between referees and replay judges in the booth. “For us to [be able to] eavesdrop on officials is groundbreaking stuff,” says ABC/ESPN coordinating producer Bill Bonnell.
“It’s a whole new way of broadcasting a football game,” adds Judy Boyd, senior VP of production for Fox Sports, which shares network-TV rights with ABC/ESPN. “It’s about working all these toys and tools and resources into a cohesive broadcast.”
Still, bells and whistles don’t matter without solid action, and the XFL has that, courtesy of rosters that have been filled by a mix of NFL vets (notably, quarterbacks Landry Jones of the Dallas Renegades and Cardale Jones of the DC Defenders) and the college ranks. A number of interesting rules (see below) help quicken the pacing — a 25-second play clock instead of the NFL’s 40 seconds, for example — and refine points-after-touchdown strategy. The XFL has also embraced sports betting.
But as any diehard fan pining for pigskin will tell you, merely the existence of the games serves as a comfort. Says Bonnell, “Football is religion in America, and you can never have enough.”
• No Extra Point Kicks Instead, teams can run a play from the 2-yard line for 1 point, from the 5 for 2 points and from the 10-yard line for 3. A touchdown can lead to 9 points.
• Overtime Shoot-Outs A tie in regulation is decided in five “rounds” of each team alternating to run a single play from the 5-yard line, hoping to score. The team with more scores after five rounds wins. Another tie? It goes to a sudden-death round.
• Safer Kickoffs When kickers such as Nick Novak of the Los Angeles Wildcats boot the long ball, teams line up only 5 yards apart, and players can’t move until the ball is caught, decreasing big hits and making runbacks pretty exciting.
• Double Forward Pass If you complete a pass behind the line of scrimmage, you can throw a second one downfield, opening up creative plays.
• Comeback Period It’s harder to run out the clock in the last two minutes of each half. If the play ends in the field of play and there’s no time-out, the game clock starts five seconds after the ball is spotted, so you can only run off 20 seconds per play.