For my entire life, I have dreaded the end of football season. In the past, the Monday after the Super Bowl resulted in an annual moment of introspection. “How will I get my sports fix without football in my life?” The natural focus generally shifted to upcoming March Madness or the NBA, but this year my immediate focus went to the eXtreme Football League, or XFL. Last weekend was the commencement of the newest spring football league. Just last year, the AAF attempted the same thing, only to seize operation in less than two months, so I watched the first weekend of the XFL with skepticism. But, even with the four game sample size, I am convinced the XFL will not only be successful, but they will push the NFL to become better.
The XFL focused on making rule changes to increase the excitement of the game. First off, the kickoff was transformed into 10 men on each side with a five-yard seperation between each other, where the kicking team cannot move until the receiving team catches the ball. If the receiving team cannot return it, they receive the ball at the 35-yard line, encouraging teams to return the ball. Ultimately, this concept reduces the high-speed hits that the normal kickoff encourages, making the plays safer, while still maintaining the entertaining momentum changing possiblity of kickoffs. The extra point was replaced with the offense going for one, two or three from the two-yard line, five-yard line and 10-yard line, respectively. The idea forces teams to consider point strategy and tailor their offensive play calling to high pressure moments. The league also added a designated ball spotting official and decreased the play clock from 40 to 25 seconds. This change made the game flow more cohesively by decreasing the time between plays. To help offenses drive the field in the final two minutes, the time clock does not start until the play clock hits 20 seconds. This encourages late game heroics, a staple of the football watching experience.
One of my favorite aspects of the game was its openness. To fight criticism from fans, the league put a priority on clarity. For example, all play reviews are made by the officials, and both the refs and replay booth are mic-ed up, providing fans real time explanations on call decisions. The coaches and select players were also mic-ed up during the game, letting fans hear strategy discussion and even play calling in real time. Additionally, they had sideline interviews with players and coaches during the game. Hearing immediate reactions after a player throws an interception or scores a touchdown adds an element to the TV coverage never seen before.
The XFL focused their attention on providing a fan-friendly experience. The vast majority of comments online were positive from the first weekend. Three of the four games had a higher watch rating than any other sporting event over the weekend. It’s not surprising because the XFL can be summed up in three words: exciting, innovative and tranparent. With the spring void in football, there is no doubt that a league could fullfill this need and take-off. I hope for the sake of all football fans that the XFL can continue to attract viewers and transform the future of the sport.