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XFL considered eliminating punts and field goals among rules

Graphic courtesy of XFL

The rebooted XFL discussed eliminating punts and field goals as part of its rules, which were unveiled this week.

The start-up spring season league initially had over 100 ideas for new rules, which were cut to 50 and then tested with players since last December.

The final rules, designed to speed up play and add excitement for fans, were announced this week, most notably nine-point touchdowns and a shootout style overtime. Among the initial ideas that didn’t make the cut was eliminating punts, making each fourth down a heightened test of character and skill.

“In football you have four downs to make 10 yards and a punt is a safety valve. If you have four downs [without the ability to punt] how would you coach? That was the question,” XFL commissioner Oliver Luck told SportBusiness. “We talked about it and a fourth down is a hugely important play if it’s from your 20-yard line because if you don’t make it you’re giving the ball away [very close to your end zone]. But the thing was we couldn’t test it.

“To truly test it where coaches had their livelihoods dependent on the decision, it was too hard to do. We talked about it, it’s fascinating, it might be a great way to play the game, it might not be, but we felt we were not the right beta test for something like this,” he said.

On the prospect of eliminating field goals, Luck added: “If you take the field goal out – and we had already decided that extra points were not going to be plays from kicks but from scrimmage – then you’re really taking the foot out of football. The kicker becomes irrelevant, all you need is a kicker for kick-off, and we thought it might be a bridge too far. Some day it might happen but there is something still magical about a 48-yard field goal to win a game. It’s still a great play. We didn’t want to take that aspect out of the game.”

Other ideas that didn’t make the cut were giving punt returners a five-yard “halo” to give the player a better chance to making a return, which was considered too hard to officiate, and allowing offensive tackles to catch passes, which was considered too disruptive for defense coaches.

The XFL is backed by WWE owner Vince McMahon, who has invested nearly $400m (€459m) in the venture. The first version of the XFL, a joint project between WWE and NBC, lasted just one season in 2001.

In the United States, the XFL has agreed multi-year rights deals with ESPN and Fox Sports. From the inaugural 2020 season, XFL games will air weekly on broadcast television (ABC and Fox Sports) complemented by games on cable (ESPN, ESPN2, FS1 and FS2). ABC will broadcast the inaugural game, between the DC Defenders and Seattle Dragons, at Audi Field in Washington, DC, on February 8, at 2pm ET.

Earlier this week, the XFL announced a multi-year partnership with sports data and technology company Genius Sports to protect the start-up league against the threats of improper and illegal sports betting.