In the fifth round of the NFL Draft last weekend, the Panthers took Kenny Robinson, a safety from West Virginia. Robinson is noteworthy because he played football in the XFL this season until the league had to declare bankruptcy as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. [Aside: It is unkind and unproveable to assert that the XFL would have gone bankrupt anyway and that COVID-19 merely hastened the process.] Most of the other XFL players were not eligible for the NFL Draft because their NCAA eligibility had expired in previous years coincident with the expiration of the NCAA eligibility. Robinson was still eligible because he was an underclassman who left WVU as a result of allegations related to academic fraud. In a sense, those allegations provided him with a benefit. Interesting…
With the demise of the XFL – save for the legal proceedings involved with the bankruptcy filing and the lawsuits that are certain to come to life as a result of that filing – I want to look at several of the things the XFL introduced to professional football and to sort out the ones I think the NFL should adopt.
The best innovation from the brief history of the XFL was the transparency and the speed of its booth reviews; the NFL should find a way to mimic what the XFL did there and adopt it immediately. The transparency is easy to achieve; it takes a camera in the replay booth along with an audio feed to the airwaves. With those minimal intrusions, XFL viewers could hear the communication between the booth and the referee on the field and it could see the camera shots that the replay official was using to make his determination. I have been on a sufficient number of journeys around the sun to know that this will not eliminate conspiracy theories among fans – – but it should reduce the number.
In the XFL there were no PATs. After a touchdown, the scoring team had 3 options:
- It could run a play from scrimmage at the 2 yardline; if it reached the end zone, that was worth 1 point.
- It could run a play from scrimmage at the 5 yardline; if it reached the end zone, that was worth 2 points.
- It could run a play from scrimmage at the 10 yardline; if it reached the end zone, that was worth 3 points.
I like this rule because it replaces a less-than-exciting place-kicking play with another play from scrimmage – which is what a fan tunes in to see. Moreover, the ability to select from the menu of where to place the ball introduces another layer of strategy to the game and I do not see how that would be a negative factor.
The XFL kickoff rule is a plus for player safety because it reduces the number of full speed collisions on those plays. Here is a link to a report that has text and graphic representations of the kickoff rule in case you did not watch any XFL games on TV. This rule should indeed increase player safety; at the same time, it is a significant departure from a fundamental part of the game. I would lean to the side of player safety here since there is precedent in football history for changes to the kickoff rule in pursuit of that goal. Recall that the flying wedge used to be part of kickoff return strategy; so, changes to the kickoff rules should not be considered sacrosanct.
In the XFL, double forward passes were allowed if the first of the two forward passes on a play was completed behind the line of scrimmage. I only saw one team try this one time and I was not so horrified by it that I ran screaming from the TV set and hid under my bed. The only objection I have to this rule is that it gives another advantage to the offensive unit and I do not think that the field needs to be tilted in that direction any more than it is now.
Another XFL rule innovation is not innovative at all. The XFL adopted the college football rule requiring only 1 foot to be inbounds for a completed pass. Again, this provides the offense with another advantage. Personally, I think that there have been enough rule changes with that intent and result.
Regarding production of the game itself for TV, the XFL added another sideline reporter to the mix – one on each side of the field – and they instituted ingame interviews with players and coaches. Such a bad idea… Sideline reporters and the insights they bring to the game are even less exciting that PATs. If you stick a microphone in the face of a QB who just threw an INT and ask him what he saw on the play – – obviously not the defender – – you should quickly realize that none of the answers increase understanding on the part of the viewer or the reporter. And Heaven forbid you should ask a player who just lost a fumble how he feels at the moment…
Another production innovation was to allow viewers to listen in on the electronic communications between coaches and players. Those were interesting for about the first half-dozen times they added that audio feed to the broadcast. After that, it was much ado about nothing because it was all jargon/gibberish.
So, the breakdown of seven XFL innovations creates three layers for the NFL to consider:
- Replay transparency: Adopt it.
- Eliminate PATs: Adopt it.
- XFL kickoff rule: Adopt it.
- Double forward passes: Save this until NFL defenses catch up to NFL offenses and the league mavens think they need to inject more offense into the games.
- One foot inbounds for completed passes: See Double forward passes above.
- Additional ingame sideline reporting: Drive a wooden stake into the heart of this idea.
- Access to coach/player electronic communication: Sounds like it would be interesting – – but it isn’t; don’t do this.
Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times had this to say about another competition that was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak:
“As if all the other shutdowns weren’t enough, now they’re telling us there won’t be a Scripps National Spelling Bee this year.
“There are no words …”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………