Football is back — only a week after it ended.
This, however, isn’t the football you’re used to. It’s the reboot of the XFL, which is promising the kind of up-close look for fans the NFL doesn’t offer and new rules it believes will make games more exciting.
“It’s a lot different,” former Giants offensive coordinator and New York Guardians coach Kevin Gilbride said in a phone interview, comparing the two leagues. “It’s all about the fans.”
The eight-team XFL begins this weekend and will hit the tri-state area on Sunday afternoon when the Guardians open against the Tampa Bay Vipers at MetLife Stadium.
The many different rules compared to the NFL have one common theme: Improving the fan experience.
The games will be faster. The clock won’t stop between plays, until the final two minutes of each half. There will be a 25-second clock between plays instead of 40 seconds, halftime will last just 10 minutes and each team will get two timeouts per half instead of three.
No extra-points are allowed. There will be three options: Run a play from the 2-yard line for one point, from the 5-yard line for two points, or from the 10-yard line for three points. Kick returns are encouraged. If a punt goes out of bounds, the receiving team starts at its own 35-yard-line. If a kickoff goes out of bounds, the receiving team starts at its 45. Only the kicker and returner can move before the ball is caught on kickoffs. On punts, the team kicking can’t cross the line of scrimmage until the ball is punted.
“Anything to enhance the excitement of the game they’ve done,” Gilbride said. “From a coach’s perspective, it’s a lot more strategy going into the game than would normally happen in the NFL.”
Perhaps just as importantly, the Guardians are giving fans a chance to get as close to the action as possible. Tickets are affordable, just $30 to sit in the lower bowl at MetLife Stadium. During the national anthem, fans will be able to line up with the players. There will be postgame autograph sessions at the 50-yard line and group ticket packages with perks like attending postgame press conferences.
“We want to bring fans closer to the game they love,” Guardians president Janet Duch said.
Said Gilbride: “The fact people will be able to get a peek behind the curtain, so to speak, is something they will really treasure.”
Though the XFL can’t compare to the NFL in terms of talent, Gilbride believes his team has several players with NFL ability. This league is now giving them the opportunity to prove it. The Guardians’ roster includes former Penn State quarterback and NFL backup Matt McGloin, one-time Jets defensive tackle T.J. Barnes and speedy running back Justin Stockton, who has spent time with the Lions and Seahawks.
It remains to be seen how well the league, and the Guardians in particular, will draw. Duch declined to reveal expectations for how many fans will be in the stands on Sunday, but she did say the Guardians are “happy with where we are,” a few days away from the opener.
“We’re certain we’re building this the right way,” Duch said. “We know this is going to take time.”
A brand new game
The relaunched XFL begins its season this weekend with eight teams and a host of new rules. Here’s a look:
* After a touchdown, teams will have one play from either the 2-yard line (one point), 5-yard line (two points) or 10-yard line (three points). There are no kicks allowed for PATs.
* If a team completes a forward pass behind the line of scrimmage, that team may throw a second forward pass.
* Overtime consists of five rounds, similar to a shootout or penalty kicks, with each team getting one play from the 5-yard line.
* The play clock is shortened from 40 seconds to 25.
* On kickoffs, the kicking team cannot move until the ball is caught by the returner. Touchbacks will be placed at the 35-yard line.
* On punts, the punting team cannot go past the line of scrimmage until the ball is kicked. If a ball goes out of bounds inside the 35, it’s a touchback and the ball goes to the 35.
Seattle Dragons vs. D.C. Defenders
Saturday, 2 p.m., ABC
L.A. Wildcats vs. Houston Roughnecks
Saturday, 5 p.m., FOX
Tampa Bay Vipers vs. New York Guardians
Sunday, 2 p.m., FOX
St. Louis Battlehawks vs. Dallas Renegades
Sunday, 5 p.m., ESPN