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Sunday, April 21, 2024
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The NFL, Not One to Borrow, Appropriates the Old XFL Kickoff

  • The league announced it will use the same rules the XFL created in 2020.
  • Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee, says the NFL has not often looked elsewhere for improvements.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL has held loose ties to the many minor league football outfits that have come and gone over the last few decades, using them at times as training grounds for referees, quarterbacks, and coaches, largely unofficially. But never has the league borrowed from a minor league something as dramatic as the new kickoff rule that was adopted by the NFL this morning.

The reconstituted kickoff was first used in 2020, in the XFL, which shuttered after only five weeks due to the pandemic. The relaunched XFL used the same kickoff during its ’23  season.

Rich McKay, co-chairman of the NFL competition committee, says that the only other cases he can recall of the league borrowing rules from the lower ranks are a few minor adoptions from NFL Europe, which ceased operations in 2007. But certainly nothing like today’s decision.

“If you go back to our NFL Europe days, we tried … a bunch of those [rules],” says McKay, who remembers that being “in my early days of the committee.

“What they are, I can’t remember. [They] certainly weren’t as significant as this.”

The new rule is designed to maintain the action of the kickoff while reducing the high rate of concussions and other injuries typically associated with the traditional version. In the new format, a kicker will boot the ball from his own team’s 35-yard line, while his 10 teammates line up downfield, at the opposing team’s 40. The receiving team will have nine players between its own 30- and 35-yard line, with two returners inside the 20-yard line. No one but the kicker and receivers will be allowed to move until the ball hits the ground or is caught.

The XFL—whose tagline in the 2020 season was “football reimagined”—touted that its kickoff would be safer than the traditional version but still ensure returns on most kicks. McKay says that, based on the NFL’s research, that’s what happened. 

While the NFL is borrowing the idea, that doesn’t mean there’s any official relationship between it and the UFL, which formed from an XFL-USFL merger and kicks off its inaugural season Saturday. In fact, asked about the kickoff during his closing press conference from this week’s annual meetings, Goodell gave credit instead to NFL special teams coaches, with no nod to the XFL.

The UFL, meanwhile, will employ the traditional kickoff, though Daryl Johnston, the league’s head of football operations—who in the same role at the USFL last year described the XFL kickoff as not looking like real football—told the Markcast podcast last week that if injuries were up this year on the play, the UFL would make a change.

The reformatted kickoff also initially met resistance in the NFL, where 13 teams voted against it on the first count Monday. (Twenty-four yeas were needed.) With some arm-twisting overnight, that figure jumped to 29 yeas this morning. The resolution approving the change is effective for only one season.

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