This weekend marked the return of the retooled XFL, the brainchild of professional wrestling bigwig Vince McMahon. Since the last, short-lived experiment in football league alternatives to the NFL (the AAF) didn’t even finish its first season, many fans are probably hoping this one does a bit better. Personally, I was particularly enthused to see that the XFL at least has a team from New York, the Guardians. I got the chance to watch them play the Tampa Bay Vipers yesterday and I must confess that I found it enjoyable, perhaps more so because the Guardians simply trounced the Vipers.
CBS Sports has a review of some of the highlights of the four games that took place and shares a few thoughts on how the league is shaping up.
The first weekend of the XFL started fast and ended with a thud. Perhaps that’s to be expected for a start-up football league, but in four games, there was a lot of potential of what this league can be … and what it hopes it won’t be. The second half of the D.C-Seattle game was thrilling, fun football. It was the perfect start for a league looking to put its best foot forward. And the show put on by Houston quarterback P.J. Walker (more on him later) gave this league a lot of reason for optimism…
What’s not good are the mistakes. Turnovers, penalties, negative plays and general miscues are the type of things that make casual fans lose interest quickly. Granted, every team needs a few weeks to work out the kinks. And not every team is going to have a great quarterback. Understanding those things are prerequisites to enjoying this league.
The major complaints from CBS centered not on the structure of the new league and the rule changes from the NFL (which I’ll get to in a moment) but on the performance of the teams. The Saturday games seemed more well balanced and close, while the Sunday games, including New York’s blowout win over Tampa Bay, were too lopsided. It’s a fair assessment, I suppose. New York wound up with a great quarterback and a killer defensive line, while the Vipers simply struggled to keep their hand in for most of the game.
But that was inevitable for any group starting out from scratch. The teams will need to get into the flow and work the bugs out. You can watch a highlight reel of the New York game here if you missed it and want to get a sense of the action on the field.
As to how well the XFL “works” under the new rules, particularly for those of us who are traditional NFL fans, I found it to be a mixed bag, but mostly positive. And I honestly didn’t find any of the changes so offputting that they would make me just want to shut off the television. NBC Los Angeles recently published a full summary of the rules changes that you can check out, but I’ll just touch on a few of what I considered the biggest ones.
Many of the rule changes are intended to speed up play. This comes into effect mostly with how they handle clock stoppage in between plays. The 25 second clock (as opposed to 40 in the NFL) didn’t seem to bother the teams very much and kept the game moving along. That’s made easier by stopping the clock on every play until the ball is spotted by the official. Teams don’t have to always try to run out of bounds near the end of each half, so they can use their entire playbook. I liked it.
One great feature is that coaches don’t get to challenge play calls because they really don’t need to. All plays are subject to review and the best part is that the play review official is on camera and has a microphone so viewers can watch the review process, see which replays he’s looking at and hear him discuss his decisions. I wish the NFL would adopt this rule as it would save a lot of heartaches.
The kickoff and punt rules take some getting used to, but they also didn’t detract from the action or the pace of play. They’re also designed to decrease injuries, which is great. As I said… it’s an adjustment, but I barely noticed by the end of the game.
The really weird rule change they implemented deals with conversions after touchdowns. There are no more extra-point kicks. Instead, the teams can choose between one, two or three point conversions from the two, five or ten yard line respectively. Not sure how I feel about that one. NFL point after kicks are *almost* (though not entirely) automatic while running the ball in, even from the two yard line, is far from assured against a tough defensive line. But, again, it’s really not a deal breaker for me.
As I said above, all in all, I genuinely enjoyed the game that I watched and I’ll definitely give it a chance again next weekend. They’ve got eight teams in two divisions playing a ten week season with an abbreviated postseason and championship. And for those of us who go into football withdrawal after the Super Bowl, it’s kind of nice to have this option. We can only hope that the ticket sales and television ratings allow the league a chance to catch on and give the teams some times to come together and improve their play.