Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The XFL Had Its Moments...

The XFL was never taken seriously during its short existence, but it had a number of underrated rule changes that the NFL might eventually want to consider adding itself. Since the NFL Owners are currently having their meetings in Hawaii where they discuss rule changes, I thought it would be worthwhile to look at some alternate ways to run the game.

Some of the Better Rule Variations (From Remember the XFL):

1. "The extra point will either be [a] pass or [a] run attempted only after a touchdown. The ball [is] spotted on the 2-yard line, [thus] eliminating the extra-point attempt by the kicker."

He may hate you, but I love you, Rod Smart

Pros: The PAT kick is one of the most boring plays in football. It is considered a given, besides the rare two-point conversion attempt, that when a player makes forward progress along the end line, it is an automatic seven. In the extremely rare instance that a kicker misses the extra point, the kicker is either quickly forgiven because the outcome isn't in doubt or he is a goat, blowing the game his teammates had fought so hard to win or tie.

The extra-point-kick dates back from when the kicking game was shaky and making a kick from the three yard line was a challenge. If you watch small high-school football you can often get a taste of how this used to be. In the NFL, this is no longer case.

Cons: The usual if it ain't broke, don't fix it argument. The extra point is a tradition of football at all levels. Tradition should matter for something in our sports, despite the fact that the NFL has a long habit of adjusting its rules in order to increase fan interest. (This will be a given drawback to any rule book change, so let's just call it the "tradition argument" from here on out.) The traditional argument is not the only drawback, however. Taking out the extra point will take even more "foot", out of football. Heck, that might not convince you that the PAT is worth keeping around, but moving to a run/pass extra point requirement would pretty much eliminate the two-point conversion. While only in the NFL since the mid-nineties, the two-point conversion has added a nice bit of excitement, making games closer than they would have been otherwise. Seriously, can you imagine a time when an 8 point lead with 1:30 to go and the other team holding the ball was rock-solid? You could possibly make a two-point conversion take place from the four-line or something but that just seems like it would just muck up the rules a little too much.

2. "Receivers needed only one foot inbounds for a pass reception."

Pros: This would simplify the professional game in threes ways. First off, college football uses this rule and one of the problems that football has with expanding its audience comes from its complex rules. Having a variety of different rules between professional and amateur football is a big part of its complexity. Therefore, going to the one-foot rule would have the advantage of slightly simplifying the game. Additionally, the one-foot rule would arguably make it easier to call a pass inbounds or not. Referees would only need to check for one body part hitting in bounds, not make sure the receiver was able to pull off the second foot drag. Finally, it would make it easier for the offense to move the ball, perhaps increasing fan-excitement.

Cons: The usual “stick with tradition argument.” Also, the current rule holds professional receivers to a higher standard, forcing them to maintain a higher-degree of concentration while attempting to catch the ball. Perhaps, too, the offense has enough advantage in the professional game as it is?

3. “No fair catches are permitted, but the returning player is granted a 5-yard protected halo where a member of the kicking team may not encroach until the ball is touched. The kicking team may not cross the line of scrimmage until the ball is punted. At the same time, any punt traveling more than 25 yards past the line of scrimmage is a live ball and can be recovered by either team.”

It would be interesting to know how this affected the play on the field. I watched a few XFL games and it did not seem like this rule variation came into play much. Since the offensive players have to wait until the punt is kicked to pass the line of scrimmage, it is very hard for them to move down fast enough to have a chance at the ball.

Pros: One of the most boring plays in football is downing a punt on special teams. The kicking team’s players will wait until they are sure the football will not move back another inch before they end the agony and touch the ball. In general, fans often leave the television to get an early start on a snack when a punt occurs. Sure, they have a chance of missing a great punt return, but more often than not it is a downed ball, a fair catch or a short, five-yard return. Therefore this rule has the potential to increase fan enjoyment. This change also makes the rules a little simpler. It basically makes the punt mirror the kickoff. During a kickoff, a kicking team cannot move pass the line of scrimmage until the ball is kicked. Additionally, the ball is live for both teams once the kick goes past ten yards.

Cons: This is a radical rule change, drastically affecting the way the game is played. The keep-with-tradition argument has full force here. Furthermore, the rule-change has the potential to decrease punt-fakes as the play will obviously be seen as a fake immediately if players move past the line of scrimmage once the ball is snapped.

The were other several other rule changes in the defunct-XFL. Read them all at Remember the XFL.

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