When the new incarnation of the XFL begins play on Feb. 8, fans shouldn’t expect to see anything nearly as unorthodox as the pregame scramble for possession from the 2001 version of the league. But there will be numerous rule changes designed to improve the pace of play, and keep fans interested without endangering players.

XFL Rules
Following the bouncing XFL ball may be harder — and more entertaining — than usual thanks to new rules changes designed to add both excitement and pace to the game. (Image: Todd Warshaw/Getty)

The XFL unveiled a series of new and modified rules on Tuesday, following what the league says was an 18-month process that took input from fans, players, coaches, and medical professionals, among others.

XFL Encourages Kick Returns Without Disregarding Safety

Many of these rules encourage fans to pay attention during plays that have largely become boring in NFL play.

After a touchdown, teams will have to run a play from scrimmage rather than kick an extra point. Teams have three options: they can try to score from the two-yard line for a single point, the five-yard line for two points, or the 10-yard line for three points.

XFL kickoffs and punts have been altered to encourage returns. Kickoffs will take place from the 30-yard line, with the coverage and blocking teams lining up five yards apart at the receiving team’s 35- and 30-yard lines. Only the kicker and the returner are allowed to move until the ball is actually caught, or until three seconds after it has hit the ground.

Similarly, players on the coverage team will not be allowed to leave the line of scrimmage until the ball is kicked, and balls punted out of bounds will go out to the receiving team’s 35-yard line. The goal is to disincentivize both the act of punting, and to reduce the number of fair catches. Rules for all kinds of kicks are designed to prevent players from sprinting into collisions, which is one of the leading causes of concussions in football.

Offenses Given More Room to Experiment

XFL overtime will pit the two teams in a shootout format. Both team will get five plays from the 5-yard line, with the team that scores most often winning the game. If teams remain tied, they will continue alternating plays until someone has the lead at the end of a round.

The XFL has also made some offensive rules changes designed to make the game easier to officiate, and to encourage creativity. Ineligible players cannot be more than three yards down the field, which should make run pass option plays easier to manage. In addition, teams will be allowed to throw a second forward pass, provided the ball hasn’t crossed the line of scrimmage.

The league will also use a running clock until the final two minutes of each half, after which, rules are in place to make it harder for teams to run out the clock. This should improve the pace of play, while still giving teams the opportunity to come back late in games.

According to XFL commissioner Oliver Luck, the goal is to make the game as exciting as possible without ruining the traditional feel of football.

“What we did is listen to fans,” Luck told ESPN. “And what they told us is, they love this game, but they would like it at a little more of a faster pace, and with a little more excitement.”

“We tried to listen to what they didn’t want, also,” he added. “They didn’t want gimmicks or things that were inauthentic. They also didn’t want to be complicit when it comes to player safety.”

The inaugural season of the new-style XFL will feature eight teams, with names like the DC Defenders, Houston Roughnecks, and St. Louis Battlehawks. Teams started their training camps this week, and will compete in a 10-week regular season beginning next month.