Kickoffs are an exciting play again. At least, they are in the XFL.
After years of rules changes have made kickoffs in the NFL uninteresting, the XFL came up with a fresh approach that made them fun again — while also eliminating the high-speed collisions that made the NFL consider eliminating kickoffs altogether.
Of the 35 kickoffs in the first weekend of XFL play, 32 of them were returned, according to ESPN. That’s 91.4 percent. During the 2019 NFL season, only 36 percent of kickoffs were returned.
In the XFL, the kicker kicks the ball from the 30-yard line and is required to land it inbounds beyond the opponent’s 20-yard line. If he fails to land it inbounds past the 20, the receiving team gets the ball all the way out at the kicking team’s 45-yard line. If he kicks it into the end zone, the receiving team gets the ball at its own 35-yard line — 10 yards beyond where a receiving team gets the ball in the NFL when a kickoff goes for a touchback.
The coverage team lines up at the 35-yard line on the returning side of the field, with the receiving team (other than the returner) lined up at the 30. So it’s 10-on-10, but with only five yards separating the players, there are no high-speed collisions. No one can move on kickoffs until either the return man has touched the ball, or the official signals that the ball has been on the ground for three seconds.
Add all those rules up, and it’s easy to see why kicking teams are incentivized to kick the ball where a return is possible. It’s also easy to see why there will be fewer injuries on XFL kickoffs than on NFL kickoffs. The XFL found something special with its new kickoff rule.