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As the NFL debates changes to its season, what elements could the league borrow from the XFL?

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The NFL is back in the sporting news cycle as the league’s owners approve a proposed collective bargaining agreement, putting the ball in the NFL Players Association’s court ahead of the 2020 season.

Meanwhile, the XFL is off and running, with two weeks of its schedule already complete following Super Bowl LIV. While ratings took a drop in Week 2 from an impressive initial performance on FOX, ABC and ESPN in Week 1, millions of fans are still showing interest in the upstart league.

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One of the reasons those fans are sticking around? The variety in the league’s rules, which feature a lot of differences from what they’re accustomed to seeing during NFL games in the fall and winter.

Some of the rules are meant to create more competitive games, while others help to keep players safe by eliminating plays that feature high-speed and high-impact collisions. Regardless, they all represent a change in the game, and could have a ripple effect as the NFLPA figures out next steps in its negotiations with the league’s owners.

While NFL owners are currently pushing for a 17-game season and an extra playoff team in each conference (with two extra playoff games total), players may be watching former teammates in the XFL and wondering if some of the latter’s rules may help as it relates to increasing career longevity and a player’s long-term health.

Could the NFL have some rule changes in store for next season, with some inspired by the XFL? If so, there are a few immediate ones that come to mind:

  • The XFL’s kickoff rules

In the XFL, players stay put until the ball has been caught by the returner, lowering the risk of any high-speed collisions, therefore limiting injuries and concussions. The league has similar rules for punts, with the kicking team unable to move past the line of scrimmage until the ball has been kicked.

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Kickoff returns in the NFL have basically disappeared at this point, with most kickers blasting the ball out of the end zone for touchbacks since kickoffs were moved up by five yards in 2011. But, if the league introduced the XFL’s kickoff rules into the equation, they could bring one of the more exciting plays in football back into the game, and keep fans attention for longer stretches of time.

  • Video review transparency

This one isn’t a rule on the field, but the implementation of transparency in the video review process has gotten rave reviews for the XFL and its broadcasts. After years of anger and frustration around the review process in the NFL, the league could save a few headaches by considering this change in its own broadcasts.

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  • Extra point options

In the XFL, extra points aren’t as simple as a kicker sending the ball through the uprights from 33 yards out. They’re earned in a different fashion, forcing teams to create different types of conversion plays based on how many points they want to go for.

If the NFL adopted the XFL’s extra point rules, things could get very interesting. Mike Tomlin wants the Steelers to play it safe and just get one point after a touchdown? He’ll have to run a play from the 2-yard line.

Bill Belichick is feeling gutsy and looking to get the Patriots a lead in the first half? He’ll need to draw up a play that can be executed from the 5-yard line for two points, or draw one up from the 10-yard line for three points.

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It makes the decision-making a more pivotal part of the game, and just like the updated kickoff rules, it forces fans to keep their attention on the game, rather than tuning it out and looking at their phones after a touchdown.

  • Players need just one foot in bounds instead of two

To help speed games up and make video reviews easier, the XFL only requires players to have one foot in bounds to complete a catch, rather than both feet.

The move seems like a smart one, as it lines up with the collegiate level to make for a more seamless transition on that end, and prevents games from dragging on due to lengthy reviews.

Meanwhile, the NFL could benefit from the updated rule for a few reasons.

  1. It’ll make the game even safer, with players exerting less from when they would force both feet to get down, and focusing more about landing safely without getting hit.
  2. It allows for more highlight-reel catches, which have been fading away as big hits disappear and the nuances of what’s considered a catch increase. With more catches comes more scoring, which the league also loves.
  3. It shortens the time of games, as video reviews start to decrease. This allows for more focus from fans, and less looking away from the screen during a game.
  4. It removes some of the headache that comes with video reviews, lessening the need to dive into extreme detail on the results of challenges.

Fans love college football. They love incredible, acrobatic catches. They love shorter games and not having to complain about blown calls and their teams wasting challenges because of them. If this rule was implemented, they get all of that. Nice and easy.

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Despite its failure, the initial version of the XFL still had its impact on the NFL, helping the latter figure out the introduction of the Skycam. Even if the XFL suffers the same fate, in its reincarnation, it could have just as large of an impact on its competitor if the NFL decides to borrow some concepts from its counterparts.

For the sake of the players and the interest of the fans, the NFL would at least benefit from exploring their options and seeing what may work with their style of football.

What rules do you want to see implemented in the NFL? Let us know by following @SOTSports on Twitter or by liking our Facebook page!

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