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XFL bringing back its unique kickoff rule that increases returns, decreases injuries

Mike Florio and Chris Simms argue the pros and cons to the USFL and XFL revising the touchback rule on fumbles to give the ball back to the offense, and how it relates to the current NFL rules.

One of the best innovations of the short-lived XFL 2.0, which began play in February of 2020 and closed down in March of 2020, was its kickoff rule. That rule will be back for XFL 3.0, which begins play on Saturday.

The kickoff rule consists of 10 players on the kicking team and 10 players on the receiving team (everyone except the kicker and returner) lining up across from each other, five yards apart. No one except the kicker and returner can move until either the returner has touched the ball, or the ball has been on the ground for three seconds.

According to the XFL, there were two big advantages to the rule: One is that there were fewer injuries because the blockers and tacklers, being only five yards apart and not getting a running start, aren’t engaging in full-speed collisions. The other is that there were far more kickoff returns than in the NFL: Only 38 percent of kickoffs were returned during the 2022 NFL season, but 97 percent of kickoffs were returned during the short-lived 2020 XFL season.

Reggie Barlow, who spent eight years in the NFL as a kick returner and is now head coach of the XFL’s DC Defenders, praised the league’s kickoff rule.

“The kickoff, the rule for our kickoff, the way we do that is interesting,” Barlow said. “Obviously it’s safe. We’re talking about player safety. But it still allows us to give the fans what they want, and that’s action. As mentioned, there’s 97 percent of kickoffs were returned, and that’s what people pay their money for, to come and see these guys perform. Looking forward to that, and that’s definitely one of the different rules that I think our fans will enjoy.”

It’s going to be tough for either the XFL or the USFL to differentiate themselves enough from the NFL to look like anything other than minor league football. But the XFL’s kickoff rule is one clear example of an innovation that could make spring football unique.