The XFL is an American football league. It is not the first alternative to the NFL to emerge in recent years, but with a lot of excitement building ahead the launch of a new season, many people are asking the same question. What is the XFL? This article provides the answer to that question and much more.
The XFL season begins on February 7, following the conclusion of the NFL season. The schedule runs for 10 weeks and features four games per weekend. The league has signed major television broadcasting contracts and is structured to enhance excitement on the field. For bettors, there are some key differences. This first XFL article will get you prepared for kickoff.
The XFL in 2001
At the peak of the attitude era in professional wrestling, WWF (now WWE) owner Vince McMahon sought out to compete with the NFL. The football league was quickly put together tying in many of the things that made wrestling great under the assumption the same would occur on the field.
Violence, disregard for player safety and sex appeal were the main focus for the league. After enormous ratings from the opening weekend, the quality of the product declined, and viewers stopped tuning in. By the end of the season, viewership was at an all-time low. The league folded shortly after and was deemed a “monumental failure”.
What is different now?
The reiteration of the XFL in 2020 is set up to succeed. The NFL product has received increased criticism the past decade for disinterest in player safety, referees controlling games and the slow pace of play.
Unlike 2001 where many of the social and physical issues around the NFL were unknown to most fans, the XFL has an opportunity this go around to capitalise on the main points of criticism for the NFL.
Vince McMahon appointed Oliver Luck as the commissioner of the XFL. Luck has a lengthy history of being a key executive for the NFL and international growth of the game through NFL Europe.
In addition to playing in the league himself, Luck has openly taken input from current coaches and players to craft the game play of XFL. With major network television deals in place, a large presence on social media and open arms to all things gambling, the XFL should be here for years to come.
XFL rules: What you need to know
There is the potential in place for the XFL to be extremely entertaining. There are a couple of key rule changes bettors must be aware of before placing a bet in the market.
Firstly, the timing rules ensure that the game will move quickly. The XFL wants to keep any game, including the possibility of overtime, under the three-hour time slot on television.
Therefore, the clock will run continuously outside of the two minute warning at all times except following a change of possession. Inside the two minute warning, the clock will stop after every play until the ball is spotted. The play clock is reduced from 40 seconds in the NFL to 25 seconds after the ball is spotted.
Kickoffs will look different from what exists at the NFL, College or Canadian football level. The blockers for the kicking and receiving team will line up 10 yards apart from each other at the 25 and 35 yard line of the receiving team. No player is permitted to move until the receiving player has fielded the kickoff. Any touchback will be spotted at the 35 yard line.
On punts, the punting team must remain behind the line of scrimmage until the ball is punted. Any punt that goes out of bounds will be spotted at the 35 yard line or the respective yard line if out before the 35.
"There are a couple of key rule changes bettors must be aware of before placing a bet in the market".
Offensively, game play will appear similar to all other styles with two quirks. Following a touchdown, teams will have the option for a one, two or three point conversion which are offensive plays from scrimmage run at the two, five and ten yard line. The other noteworthy rule is that a double forward pass is legal on any play behind the line of scrimmage.
The one major change bettors must note is that every player on offence will have a headset in his helmet. In the NFL, only the quarterback has communication with the coaches through a headset.
How to bet on the XFL
The Alliance of American Football (AAF) in the winter of 2019 illustrated how faster football does not mean higher-scoring football. The now defunct league saw totals in the opening week that averaged 50.5 points. By the fifth week of the season, the average total was down to 38.5.
Despite the running clock and a shorter play clock (30 seconds), the AAF did not produce more plays on average than an NFL game. Teams in the NFL do not consistently run hurry up offences due to the coordination and skill they require to call plays on the move. The AAF saw quarterback play struggle and offences sputter due to the pace that was forced on each team.
The XFL has the potential to be different. I think a fairer comparison to the XFL is the CFL rather than the NFL. The timing rules and pace of the game in the CFL have a lot in common with the XFL.
The play clock in the CFL is 20 seconds and there is a stop clock inside the three-minute warning of every half. While the XFL only has a stop clock inside the two-minute warning, as we see when modelling play rate in the CFL, there is a significant spike in that period. An average NFL game will have 125-130 plays run, the same with the AAF. The CFL average in comparison is above 140.
Field position is another big factor to consider. The CFL has a “no yards” rule which ensures that any player receiving a kickoff or punt has at least five yards space to the nearest defender when returning a kick. The XFL does not create a barrier for the player, but the favourable rulings on touchbacks in addition to holding players at the line of scrimmage on punts will ensure better starting field position than NFL games on every drive.
"The XFL has an opportunity this go around to capitalise on the main points of criticism for the NFL".
The potential for kickoff returns is enormous too. With the kicking team having to start at the 35-yard line of the receiving team from a dead stop, in many ways the kickoff becomes a running play. The touchback rule also forces kicking teams to kick the ball short of the end zone. Quicker plays and shorter distances to drive the field could result in more points.
The big point of emphasis for bettors is the communication from the sideline in the helmet of every player. We saw with the AAF that the limited practice time, lack of overall talent and unfamiliarity with the new rules led to sloppy play and poor communication. However, we have never seen football the way that it will play out in the XFL from a coach to player communication standpoint.
There is an enormous responsibility taken off of the shoulder of the quarterback not only from learning the playbook but relaying all calls on the field. Not only can every team run a hurry up offence without much practice, but coordinators will have complete and immediate control over small adjustments pre snap player to player.
Betting markets for the AAF mirrored the NFL in terms of pricing and expectation. It will be interesting to see what prices emerge with the XFL in the early stages of the season. The amount of money that was bet on unders during the AAF and the influence that the money had on the market pulling the price down could well shape the early odds in the XFL.