TAMPA — When XFL founder Vince McMahon hired Oliver Luck to be the commissioner of the rebooted spring professional football league, he asked him to reimagine the game.
Easier said than done, especially when tens of millions of Americans love football as it already is. So how then do you “reimagine” the game without repudiating it?
At the XFL Summer Showcase at Raymond James Stadium this weekend, we asked Luck that very question. Here are some of the ideas the league is testing before it launches in February:
1. Multiple forward passes
Why is it that offenses are allowed to throw only one forward pass per play? What if they could throw two or even three?
It’s hard to predict exactly what that will look like, but then again, that’s what the XFL wants. The greater the intrigue, the better.
With the proliferation of the shotgun formation — NFL offenses lined up in the shotgun about two-thirds of the time in 2018, twice as often as a decade ago — traditional laterals have become rare, Luck said.
“If I’m in the shotgun as a quarterback, I’m 5 yards back, I can’t throw a lateral to a receiver because he’d have to be 7 yards back,” he said. “You might as well hold a sign, ‘We’re going to throw a trick play right now.’ So we said, all right, if a team’s in the shotgun, that shouldn’t prevent the double forward pass.”
The XFL’s solution is to redefine the forward pass. Offensive players will be allowed to throw multiple forward passes as long as they don’t travel beyond the line of scrimmage. Once a pass travels beyond the line of scrimmage, all other forward passes will be illegal.
“So I can be in the shotgun, 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage, whip the ball out to the wide receiver, who is just a yard from the line of scrimmage and he can throw it,” Luck said.
A drop of any pass behind the line of scrimmage will be ruled an incomplete pass, not a fumble. The XFL wants to encourage coaches to try such plays, so by ruling drops behind the line of scrimmage as incompletions, it has reduced some of the potential risk.
In theory, the rule could lead to XFL offenses featuring more “slash” players, players who can play multiple positions, including quarterback. Think Taysom Hill of the NFL’s Saints, Trace McSorley of the Ravens or Nick Fitzgerald of the Bucs. Fitzgerald actually drew interest from the XFL before he ultimately signed with Tampa Bay during the spring.
“You can put your backup quarterback in there,” Luck said. “You can sneak him in the game. Let him rip one down the field.”
2. Three-point conversions
There will be kickoffs, field goals and punts in the XFL, but there won’t be extra point kicks. They’re far too automatic, Luck said.
“We think that the extra point kick is becoming a relatively meaningless play,” he said. “Even after the NFL moved it back, (the conversion rate) is still very very high. It’s why you go get a sandwich, right?”
After scoring a touchdown, teams will have three options. A conversion on a scrimmage play from the 2-yard line will be worth one point, a conversion from the 5-yard line will be worth two points and a conversion from the 10-yard line will be worth three points.
“The idea really is that we’re trying to take what historically had been a three-score game and make it a two-score game,” Luck said. “Say I’m down 17, I can score a touchdown and get a three-point conversion and have nine points. I’m back in this baby!”
3. “The Comeback Period”
In the NFL, the game clock stops with two minutes left in the second quarter, two minutes left in the fourth quarter, after an incomplete pass, when a player runs out of bounds or when a team calls a timeout. In the XFL, the clock will stop after every play during the final two minutes of each half.
“We didn’t want a team to be able to have three downs where they just kneel it and burn off 1:40,” Luck said. “A kneel-down — as a quarterback I loved it (he played for the Houston Oilers from 1982 to 1986) — but it’s also a nothing play.”
He calls the final two minutes “The Comeback Period” because we should see a bunch more drives than we’re used to. The goal, of course, is to not only increase the number of games that are decided in the final minutes but also hold the audience’s attention longer, no matter the actual probability of a comeback. After all, late-game comebacks are more rare than we think. Over the past 10 seasons in the NFL, teams that had a lead after three quarters went on to win more than 80 percent of the time.
Contact Thomas Bassinger at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @tometrics.