What is the XFL, and how will it compete against the NFL?

The XFL will make its return in 2023. What is the history of the XFL, how do its rules differ from the NFL, and who owns the league?

After two failed iterations nearly 20 years apart, the XFL is set to make its return in 2023. Who owns the league, and what are some of the primary differences between the XFL and the NFL? Let’s take a deeper look at the XFL before it begins its third edition next year.

What is the XFL?

The original XFL was founded in 1999 as a partnership with the World Wrestling Federation, and the eight-team league played one season in 2001. With the XFL geared more towards entertainment than the quality of play, ratings were initially excellent. However, as the campaign progressed, interest in the league waned, and it eventually folded in May 2001.

WWE owner Vince McMahon still owned the XFL brand, and after an ESPN documentary aroused interest in the league, McMahon decided to bring the XFL back. The new version of the XFL was not tied to wrestling in any way, and it didn’t feature any of the additional entertainment aspects that the original boasted.

With eight teams in place, the XFL began its second go-round in February 2020, but the timing couldn’t have been worse. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world the following month, and the XFL was not spared. Barely a month after the season began, the XFL canceled the rest of its games. By April, the league had ceased operations and declared bankruptcy.

The XFL is set to return for the third time in 2023. Training camp will begin on Jan. 4, while the season will kick off on Feb. 18. The league’s details, including its host cities, are still being hammered out. But the XFL has announced its eight head coaches for the 2023 campaign: Bob Stoops, Wade Phillips, Hines Ward, Rod Woodson, Jim Haslett, Anthony Becht, Reggie Barlow, and Terrell Buckley.

Who owns the XFL?

In Aug. 2020, a group led by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, a former wrestler and collegiate and professional football player, purchased the XFL for $15 million. The league had been set to be auctioned off, but Johnson and his peers bought it before it went on the market.

The XFL has added several members to its operations team, including former Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley, who worked in the league in 2020. Former Bills president Russ Brandon and ex-New York Giants executive Marc Ross are also included in the league’s head office.

How much do XFL players get paid?

While the XFL hasn’t announced how much players will be paid in 2023, salaries are unlikely to be all that different from 2020. In that season, each player received a bi-weekly paycheck of $2,080. Additionally, every player earned an extra $1,685 for each game in which they were active, plus a $2,222 bonus if they were on the winning team.

All told, every player had the potential to earn nearly $5,000 per week. According to a 2020 XFL memo, the average player would have been expected to take home roughly $55,000 for the season.

XFL vs. NFL: How are the two leagues different?

While the NFL does not own the XFL, the XFL will collaborate with the NFL in 2023. Instead of serving as a heel to the NFL, the XFL will work with the league on changes and enhancements to game rules, officiating, health and player safety, and more.

“We are extremely pleased to collaborate with the NFL in these important areas,” XFL chairwoman Deny Garcia said in February. “We are bringing forward an XFL that is progressive and forward-thinking when it comes to innovation, leveraging the newest technology to enhance game-day experience.

We have an open field for innovative rules to enhance in-game access. Sharing insights and practices between the XFL and NFL will do a tremendous amount of good for the game of football and support the player ecosystem overall.”

How XFL rules differ from the NFL

The last version of the XFL had many rules that differed from the NFL’s gameplay. It’s unclear if the XFL will use the same rulebook in 2023, but we should expect many of these rules to apply.

Kickoffs: While the NFL kicks off from the 35-yard line, the XFL will use the 30-yard line. This is an effort to revive kickoff returns, which have been pared back in the NFL. Only the kicker and the returner may move until the ball is caught.

The XFL differentiates between a “major” touchback (the ball is placed at the 35 if it lands in the end zone in the air) and a “minor” touchback (the ball is placed at the 15 if it bounces into the end zone). If a kickoff goes out of bounds or fails to reach the opposing 20-yard line, the receiving team will take the ball at the kicking team’s 45-yard line.

Clock: The XFL uses a running clock aside from the final two minutes of each half. During those “comeback periods,” the clock will stop on incompletions or out-of-bounds plays. On plays that end inbounds, the clock will stop until the ball is spotted and five seconds have come off the play clock. Unlike the NFL’s 40-second play clock, the XFL uses 25 seconds.

Gameplay: XFL teams will be allowed to use a double forward pass, provided the first forward pass does not cross the line of scrimmage. Additionally, XFL receivers will only need to have one foot in bounds to record a catch, as opposed to two in the NFL. Finally, XFL offensive linemen are allowed to move up to two yards downfield on a forward pass.

Points after touchdown: The XFL does not use kicked extra-point attempts. Instead, teams will have the option of a 1-point try from the 2-yard line, a 2-point try from the 5-yard line, or a 3-point try from the 10-yard line.

Punting: The XFL will attempt to reduce the number of punts in each game. Gunners are not allowed, and no member of the punting team may cross the line of scrimmage before the ball is punted. All touchback punts will be placed at the 35-yard line. Out-of-bounds punts will be placed at the 35 or wherever the ball went out of bounds.

Overtime: In OT, each offense will have five attempts at a 2-point conversion from the 5-yard line. Whichever team ends the overtime period with the most points is the winner. If there is a tie after five rounds, conversion attempts will continue until a winner is crowned. Defenses cannot score in OT.

Can the XFL compete with the NFL?

Hardly any entity — sports-related or otherwise — can compete with the NFL. The XFL faces a bevy of hurdles, including a lack of star power, that make it difficult to keep up with the sheer scale of NFL operations.

Still, there are reasons to be optimistic about the XFL’s reboot. The league has an agreement to broadcast its games on ESPN, ABC, and FX through 2027. And if the XFL morphs into a developmental league for the NFL — not just from a player-pool perspective, but in terms of game rules and innovation — it could spark more interest from football fans.


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