Spring League tests XFL “tap” rule that sends players to sideline

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As the XFL reimagines football, it’s reimagining the manner in which football is officiated.

The Spring League, an XFL partner that has become essentially an incubator for the league’s rulebook, is using a device that allows an official to “tap” a player who has done something he shouldn’t have done, but that may not rise to the level of a penalty.

It’s a purely discretionary call, aimed at defusing the situation in lieu of slamming the brakes on the game and marching off a penalty. Ideally, it will be used when the infraction doesn’t “significantly impact” the play.

It seems mainly to be a way to impose a sanction on the player without punishing the team. That would make it more applicable when guys are pushing and shoving and otherwise doing things that aren’t quite egregious enough to merit a full-blown personal foul, or for example when a player is blatantly holding away from the action.

The “tap” punishment likely applies to only one play, assuming that the coach puts the player back in the game after that play. In theory, the coach could decide to just keep the player’s replacement on the field for the rest of the drive. If the replacement does well, maybe he stays even longer.

Ultimately, it’s a device for keeping the games moving and reducing the number of yellow flags that, no matter how justified they may be, tend to irritate paying customers. And that will make this rule a welcome change to the manner in which a football game is officiated.