Tuesday, January 16
XFL tweaks rules for added excitement

STAMFORD, Conn. -- When the XFL released its rules highlights on Tuesday, league president Basil DeVito Jr. promised that no fan will leave a seat during a punt.

In keeping with its pro wrestling image, the new football league has tinkered with the game's common rules, leaving it with "the most exciting fourth down in football" and a "can you top this?" overtime.

On a punt, the kicking team cannot cross the line of scrimmage until the ball is punted, fair catches will not be permitted and any punt traveling at least 25 yards can be recovered by either team.

"You can be sure that no fan will get a drink or go to the bathroom during an XFL game," DeVito said. "When the punter lets fly, anything can happen. The strategic possibilities are endless."

To protect the punt-returner, he will be given a five-yard halo when the ball is in the air.

In games that go to overtime, each team will have at least one possession -- a maximum of four downs from the opposition's 20-yard line, unless a defensive touchdown is scored on the first possession.

However, if the first team scores a touchdown in fewer than four downs, the second team only gets that many plays to respond.

"We think we have come up with an innovative, unique and fair way to decide a game which is tied after regulation," said XFL vice president of football operations Mike Keller.

The XFL also abolished point-after kicks following touchdowns. Instead, teams will be forced to throw or run for an extra point from the opposition's 2-yard line.

Because the clock will run on all extra points, the defensive team can earn a point by returning an interception or fumble to the other team's end zone.

Similar to collegiate rules, a receiver or defender needs only one foot inbounds on a reception or interception, and a quarterback is deemed down only when his forward progress is halted, meaning there is no "in-the-grasp" rule.

XFL quarterbacks will be protected if they slide or give themselves up, and headslaps are illegal.

The league also has brought back the "bump and run," allowing defensive backs to make contact with receivers all the way down the field.

Also, the offensive team will be given 35 seconds between plays when the clock has been stopped and 25 seconds when there is no stoppage.

"We haven't really invented any totally new plays but have incorporated certain rules from other professional and collegiate leagues, past and present, to create a faster-paced, higher-excitement brand of football," Keller said.

Along those lines, one man on offense may be in forward motion outside the tackles and returning teams must run back kickoffs out of the end zone.

The XFL will distribute its first-ever rule book prior to the start of the season, Feb. 3.

The league is the brainchild of wrestling impresario Vince McMahon and a partner of NBC, which will televise Saturday night games. UPN and TNN also will broadcast games.

Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, a former professional football player who wrestled for McMahon in the World Wrestling Federation, will be an analyst for the league.

Other big names involved in the league include NFL Hall of Famer Dick Butkus as director of football operations for the Chicago Enforcers and former NFL receiver Drew Pearson as coach of the New York-New Jersey hitmen.

The XFL has eight teams, in Las Vegas; New Jersey; Orlando; Chicago; Memphis, Tenn.; Birmingham, Ala.; San Francisco; and Los Angeles.