Off the Gridiron
December 17, 2018
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In 2001 WWE – World Wrestling Entertainment – owner Vince McMahon created a new version of the NFL, what he considered to be football combined with entertainment, he called it the XFL. In 2001 the XFL ran for a single season which consisted of eight teams that played ten games before entering a four team playoff series. McMahon has recently announced that the league will return in 2020. XFL rules are a little bit different from the NFL but not as drastic as some other alternative football leagues. In the XFL players will not be aloud to politically protest on the football field, which means they must stand for the national anthem. Players in the league also must have no criminal records to partake in the league. McMahon has also claimed that the new XFL will have two hour-long football games instead of the NFL’s common three hour plus games. As far as on field rules go, the XFL is quite similar to the NFL barring a few exceptions. In order to increase the excitement of watching football, the XFL took out the fair catch rule which allowed punt returners to be downed once the ball is caught by the returner, and avoid being hit by the other team. By taking out this rule punt returns are required, which theoretically makes the viewing experience more exciting. To prevent players from getting severely injured due to this rule, the opposing team must stay at least five yards away from the returner until they catch the ball. Kicks also cannot be kneed in the endzone for a touchback, once again forcing kick returns to occur. In order to complete a pass, receivers only need to have one foot in bounds, as opposed to the NFL’s two foot rule. Extra points are also earned by running another conventional play instead having the option of kicking a PAT. Unlike many other football league’s common coin toss to decide who starts with the ball, the XFL likes to make it a little bit more action packed. Two players line up at the 35 yard-line and sprint to the 50 yard-line in attempt to recover a football, whoever gets the ball decides whether to accept or defer the kickoff. Entertainment is major emphasis of the XFL which could entice a large consumer population for its return in 2020.
In a league lingering in the shadows cast by Sunday night lights of the NFL, players that were once projected to excel in American football are found fighting to redeem their scattered path to the highest level of competitive football. Stars like Johnny Manziel and Warren Moon battled on the snowy gridiron of our northern neighbors at one time or another. The latter transformed his impressive career as an Edmonton Eskimo, winning five Grey Cups (the CFL’s championship), into a Hall of Fame career in the NFL. The former, a first round draft pick in the 2014 NFL draft, had foreseeable greatness as a dual-threat quarterback in the league. However, his career path was diverted far North after a series of complications, where he now plays on the Montreal Alouettes. Not only did Manziel have to get used to the plethora of Tim Hortons and the fact that the majority of fans would leave early to catch the end of that night’s hockey game, but he also had to familiarize himself with a couple different rules. Unlike the NFL’s typical 11, the CFL enables teams to have 12 players on the field at a time. This extra man is often deployed as either a running back or a wide receiver in offensive schemes, while defenses often utilize the 12th man as defensive back to guard against the passing game. This passing threat is much harder to defend against in the CFL due to the fact that offensive backs (wide receivers and running backs) are able to get a running start before the ball is snapped, allowing them to build up to full speed before making a move on defensive backs. This offensive advantage is opposed by the limit of only three downs to get a first down (if a team fails to get a first down the ball is turned over to the other team), contrary to the NFL’s four downs. Another major difference between the NFL and the CFL is the additional games incorporated into the schedules of Canadian teams. While the NFL plays 16 games in a 17 week span, Canadian teams are scheduled to play 18 games with three bye weeks between the months of June and November. Out of the nine total CFL teams (NFL has 32 teams), the six teams that come out with the best schedule at the end of their 18 games compete for the Gray Cup, the CFL’s equivalent of the Super Bowl and one of the nation’s largest annual sporting event. Currently, the Calgary Stampeders lead the Western division with a record of 11-2 while the East is led by the Ottawa Redblacks with a record of 8-5. Although unproven, many believe that key to success in the North is the substitution of Maple syrup, Canada’s natural nectar, for gatorade as the team’s sideline sustenance to quench their thirst.
The AFL, better known as the Arena Football League has been around since 1987 when it was invented by Jim Foster, a former executive for the USFL (United States Football League) who looked to make football more interesting to watch. Most of us watch the NFL but how does the Arena Football League compare to the well known franchise that is the NFL? First off, there is only four teams in the entire league. Games tend to encourage offensive performance, with higher scores and shorter possessions. Game attendance is low with approximately 9,500 people visiting each game while at Lambeau field over 81,000 are present. Eight players are allowed on each side of the ball meaning eight offenders and eight defenders take the field compared to the 11 on each side of the ball that participate in the NFL. The field is 50 yards long and 85 feet wide, almost a half of the NFL standard field which is 100 yards long and 160 feet wide. There is no out of bounds, just foam covered barriers. The ball is still live if it bounces off the back net side barriers. A play is not blown dead until the player with the ball hits the ground, which results in many players getting bopped into the side barriers. The offence has a quarterback, fullback, three receivers, a center guard and a tight end who lines up next to the guard. The defense consists of three defensive linemen, two linebackers, and three defensive backs. An additional rule is that defensive linemen are not allowed to “stunt” or move laterally until the ball has passed the line of scrimmage, this results in defensive linemen having to bull rush forward at the quarterback. Traditionally in the NFL an extra point or a field goal is kicked from a placeholder, in arena football there is an option to perform a dropkick which will score an additional point however, you are still able to do a standard kick for the standard amount of points. Unlike the NFL, one offensive back may go into forward motion prior to the snap of the ball. Punting is also not permitted in the AFL. From having walls on the sideline to 11 men on the field, the AFL and NFL have many differences.
The NFL is one of the most popular sports leagues in America today, drawing in over 23 million viewers for a single game in the first week of their 2018 season. In the wake of this leagues success, alternative leagues strive to achieve the same level of competition and entertainment. Although the NFL draws the most elite level of football players in the world, those who don’t get an opportunity to make it in the NFl often choose an alternative football league. Whether that be a league focused on pure entertainment through eliminating many of the rules put in place by the NFL to promote player safety, or a league that attempts to mimic the platform of the NFL. Although these leagues do not receive the same amount of popularity as the NFL, their unique style of play can be enticing for football fanatics looking to find a similar form of entertainment during the NFL offseason.