XFL Innovations College Football Should Adopt

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMarch 13, 2020

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - FEBRUARY 22: A general interior view of CenturyLink Field with the XFL midfield logo after the game between the Seattle Dragons and the Dallas Renegades at CenturyLink Field on February 22, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. The Dallas Renegades topped the Seattle Dragons, 24-12. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
Alika Jenner/Getty Images

Five weeks into the 2020 season, the XFL's longevity remains a question. No matter what the future holds, however, the league may be remembered as a catalyst for change within the sport.

Neither the NFL nor college football is about to overhaul its rules, but both leagues should be studying the differences. And for college football in particular, a couple of XFL-sparked tweaks are worth considering and implementing.

The most successful change, without question, is seen on kickoff returns.

By its nature, football is a violent game; dangerous contact is an inherent part of the sport. The most dangerous play, according to a 2018 study, is likely the kickoff.

During the 2015 Ivy League season, 21 percent of concussions happened on kickoffswhich only accounted for 6 percent of all plays. After the league shifted the kickoff line from the 35 to the 40 and moved the touchback line from the 25 to the 20, the average rate of concussions per 1,000 kickoffs dropped from almost 11 to two.

Under the agreement that one concussion is too many, it's fair to say the reduction is valuable. However, the rate of touchbacks also increased from about 18 percent the previous three seasons to nearly 50 percent. We can acknowledge the lost excitement in those plays.

The XFL has found an ideal compromise.

While the ball is kicked from the 30-yard line, the other 10 players line up at the opposite 35. The receiving team is positioned at or behind the 30-yard line, and neither team can move until the returner catches the ball.

This format has reduced high-speed collisions yet actually encouraged returns. It's inspired a bit of creativity too.

Midway through the XFL season, ESPN's Kevin Seifert notes 93 percent of kickoffs have been returned. While we don't have concussion data, visual evidence seems positive. If the true numbers confirm it, this is a switch worth making.

Yes, it's not perfect. The rule removes surprise onside kickssomething that swung the 2015 national championship between Alabama and Clemson, for example. The XFL requires the kicking team to inform officials of an onside attempt.

Still, losing a very rare surprise onside kick in exchange for improved safety and more action is a clear win.

The XFL's effort to eliminate punts and fair catches by creating a "major" touchback rule (the ball is placed at the 35 if a punt goes into the end zone or out of bounds inside the 35) is reasonable for a league that needs to generate max entertainment. That has resulted in more punt returns, too, but it's unnecessary for college.

Besides, Iowa and Northwestern would continue to punt inside the 35-yard line even though it's the major touchback line. Good luck fixing Kirk Ferentz and Pat Fitzgerald.

And then there's replay.

Technology has progressed rapidly over the last decade, but football's rules have struggled to keep up. While officials on the field make judgment calls at full speed, we have the benefit of slow-motion cameras that capture the action.

But a massive disconnect remains. When a college football play heads to review, we sit there waiting for the call and yelling at the screen. In the XFL, viewers can hear the communication between the on-field referee and replay official.

Bring that transparencyand accountabilityto college. Specifically, use this for targeting.

Do you know what targeting is? I sure don't. The rule states a player shall not make forcible contact against an opponent with the crown of the helmet or make forcible contact to the head and neck area of a defenseless player. Some indicators of targeting are when a player leaves his feet for a tackle, leads with the helmet or lowers the head, according to the NCAA rule book.

Yet that definition allows for intense subjectivity. That's not necessarily a problem, but there's no accountability for the subsequent ruling. And when the outcome is that a player is ejected and potentially misses the first half of the following game, the absence of transparency is frustrating.

Take last season's Fiesta Bowl, for example.

Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade crunched Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Officials ultimately tossed Wade for targeting, and the penalty ended up being the turning point of the game.

Forget whether it was right or wrong; exactly why did the officials determine it was targeting? What did they discuss? What swayed their opinion? That insight, within the moment, would've been immensely beneficial to hear.

Otherwise, what is often a crucial penalty will remain an unchecked part of the game. That's a major problem.

Two simple fixes won't derail the sport as we know it. While altering the format of kickoffs is a big difference, the XFL has shown how to increase returns and player safety. And being able to hear why officials made a decision seems like an inarguable improvement.

College football doesn't need a drastic change, but the XFL has provided a blueprint for an enhanced game. No matter how small the changes are, progress is always the goal.

             

Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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