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At this time last year, the average American football fan found themselves in the doldrums of football withdrawal. The Super Bowl is over, an NFL Champion has been crowned and the NFL Draft or the USFL are the next significant football events that don’t start until April.
However, in 2023, the XFL stepped in and filled the void in the hearts of football fans to survive through the spring. While other leagues of spring football have come and gone (including previous iterations of the XFL itself), here’s what they’ve done in the inaugural week that has gone extremely well.
An ancient platitude states that one never gets a second chance to make a first impression. A big part of the XFL making a fantastic first impression was their inaugural contest concluding with a 22-20 Arlington Renegades victory over the Vegas Vipers. Not only that, it was decided on the very last play on a sack when the Vipers were attempting to tie the game on a two-point conversion but their quarterback was sacked by the Renegades’ defense.
— Vegas Vipers (@XFLVipers) February 18, 2023
While the Orlando Guardians were throttled by the Houston Roughnecks 33-12 on Saturday night, the St. Louis Battlehawks came back to beat the San Antonio Brahmas, 18-15. Closing out the season’s first week, it ended just as well as it began with the DC Defenders earning their namesake as their defense forced a turnover near the goal line to slay the Seattle Sea Dragons, 22-18.
Action like this does what is most important for any new league in any sport — keeping the fans thirsty for the next week. Considering the Sea Dragons have a four-day turnaround before facing the Battlehawks on Thursday night, they’ll need to have some goodwill built up as signs point to that game being a sloppy one.
But with what we saw this week, we may all be surprised all over again come February 23rd.
Unique Rules and Officiating Credibility
The XFL has several rules that differentiate them from other leagues. First is the elimination of kicks in conversions after touchdowns in lieu of a team’s choice to go for one, two or three points from the two, five or ten-yard line. Then you have their unique approach to the kickoff and disallowing punts to go out of bounds among other things. As it would turn out, it is the enforcement of the rules that is unique.
In particular, regarding the kickoff rules, the XFL has taken steps to maximize returns while also minimizing collisions. Players start out five yards apart with the receiving team on their 30-yard line. The kicker boots the ball from his 30 while the returner stands on his 20. Once the returner touches the ball or three seconds after the ball hits the ground, the kicking team may move to tackle the returner.
Access to the enforcement of the rules from the officials’ perspective for the audience is also unprecedented here as well. Whenever there is a review, say by one of the challenges the league allows for any kind of a play by either head coach, XFL VP of Rules and Officiating Dean Blandino reviews the play in New York City.
What this league does is not only show the exact same video angles the officials are viewing on live television but they also allow the audience to listen in on the discussion over decisions levied. With officiating under more scrutiny than ever at other levels of football, it is safe to assume they will be watching the XFL closely to see how this works out overall.
Minority Coaching Opportunities
With all the NFL news surrounding former Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and his lateral move to hold the same position for the Washington Commanders in the 2023 season, the discussion of inclusion for head coaches of color is in the public spotlight again. Over and above, having the first chairwoman to preside over a league in Dany Garcia and half of the eight teams have black head coaches, this league can be an example for other football leagues.
— Kyle Nash (@TheSoTG) January 25, 2023
The Vegas Vipers Rod Woodson, the Orlando Guardians Terrell Buckley, the San Antonio Brahmas Hines Ward and Reggie Barlow of the DC Defenders are currently head coaches personifying opportunity in the XFL, showing that it extends to more than just the players.