Feb 7, 2020 - Sports

XFL 2.0 prepares for kickoff

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A reboot of one of America's most infamous sports leagues kicks off this weekend, with billionaire wrestling mogul Vince McMahon betting once more that football fans are hungry for more football.

What they're saying: Whereas the old XFL leaned on gimmicks and stunts when it first launched (and failed) 19 years ago, the new XFL is presenting itself as a league focused entirely on quality of play and the on-field product.

  • "Aside from the name, there is nothing in common that we will have with the league in 2001," commissioner Oliver Luck told NYT.
  • The old XFL "was a lot of fun ... but it wasn't presented on television as real football," said Tom Luginbill, who coached one of the original teams and will broadcast games for ESPN. Now, it's "football and football only," he said. "There's no gimmicks."

What to know...

1. The teams: The XFL will have eight teams in 2020, divided into two divisions. Washington, New York, St. Louis and Tampa Bay are in the East division, while Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and Seattle are in the West.

  • Dallas Renegades: HC Bob Stoops, QB Landry Jones, RB Cameron Artis-Payne
  • DC Defenders: HC Pep Hamilton, QB Cardale Jones
  • Houston Roughnecks: HC June Jones, QB P.J. Walker, WR Sammie Coates
  • Los Angeles Wildcats: HC Winston Moss, QB Josh Johnson, RB Elijah Hood
  • New York Guardians: HC Kevin Gilbride, QB Matt McGloin
  • Seattle Dragons: HC Jim Zorn, QB Brandon Silvers
  • St. Louis BattleHawks: HC Jonathan Hayes, QB Jordan Ta'amu, RB Christine Michael
  • Tampa Bay Vipers: HC Marc Trestman, QB Aaron Murray, RB De'Veon Smith

2. The rules: The XFL is marketing itself as a faster version of the NFL and has publicly stated that it wants games to be played in under three hours.

  • No extra point after TD: Instead, teams can go for one, two or three points by running a play from either the two, five or 10-yard-line, respectively.
  • Multiple forward passes: Teams can throw two forward passes on the same play as long as both happen behind the line of scrimmage.
  • Reinvented kickoffs: In an attempt to increase the amount of returns while also making them safer, only the kicker and receiver can move before the ball is caught.
  • OT is a shootout: If regulation ends in a tie, both teams run five plays from the five-yard line and get a point for each score and a point for each defensive stop. The team with the most points at the end of the "shootout" wins.
  • One foot inbounds: To record a catch, receivers only need one foot — or any other part of their body — to touch the ground in bounds, rather than the two feet needed in the NFL.
  • No replay challenges: All reviews are initiated by a replay official.
  • Running clock: The clock doesn't stop outside of the final two minutes of each half.
  • Shorter play clock: 25 seconds, instead of the NFL's 40.
  • Fewer timeouts: Two per half, instead of the NFL's three.

3. Season format: Teams will play a 10-game schedule with five home and away games (no bye week). The top two teams in each division will face each other in a one-game division championship (April 18–19), followed by the league championship game (April 26).

4. TV coverage: Thanks to deals with ESPN/ABC and Fox, the XFL is much better positioned than the AAF, which debuted with strong ratings on CBS last year but faded when games moved to smaller platforms (and then imploded).

5. Sports betting: Unlike the NFL, the XFL will allow its broadcasters to openly talk about betting lines, and they will be show on-screen during telecasts. Meanwhile, on the radio, the league has partnered with VSiN (Vegas Stats & Information Network) and iHeartRadio to create audio "BetCasts," which will cover live games through a wagering lens.

The bottom line: When the XFL debuted at the turn of the century, sports fandom was much more regional, Facebook and Twitter hadn't even been invented yet and sports betting was illegal outside of Nevada. Two decades later, the landscape has completely changed — and so has the XFL's approach.

The full XFL schedule
Screenshot: XFL.com

This weekend...

  • Saturday: Seattle Dragons at DC Defenders (2pm ET, ABC); Los Angeles Wildcats at Houston Roughnecks (5pm ET, Fox)
  • Sunday: Tampa Bay Vipers at New York Guardians (2pm ET, Fox); St. Louis BattleHawks at Dallas Renegades (5pm ET, ESPN)

Go deeper: XFL 2.0 unveils teams and logos

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