The XFL is already changing the game

The XFL, in its second coming, is only one week in — and already there is a love-hate relationship brewing with one of its primary innovations.
When it comes to the league’s total access policy regarding play calls and coaching audio, the split is like this: Coaches hate it. Everyone else loves it.
Unbound by precedent, history, convention and the status quo, the XFL is free to try out whatever it likes, and is making full use of that liberty. Prior to game one, much of the talk was about the altered rules for kickoffs, the differing option of one-, two- and three-point conversions, and a rapid play clock designed to keep the game rolling.

Coming out of opening weekend, all the chatter is about the chatter — namely, the ability for viewers to hear every cough and spit that emerges from a coach’s mouth when he is trying to marshal his team to victory.
“Transparency is the word of the weekend. We’re seeing things we normally wouldn’t see while watching football.”@DeanBlandino breaks down why @XFL2020’s opening weekend was a “smashing success” ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/4i7EuiKpo7
— XFL on FOX (@XFLonFOX) February 10, 2020

It is a peek behind the footballing curtain unlike anything we have seen before, taking place in real time. It is fascinating, compelling and, frankly, highly educational. So, what did you make of it all, Jim Zorn?
“Absolutely shocked,” Seattle Dragons head coach Zorn told the Seattle Times. “I think it gave a fan a chance to hear and see something they’ve never heard before, but I felt very exposed. I know it had to be fun for everybody, but not super fun for me to reveal all that stuff.”
If I’m being honest, I enjoyed Zorn’s reaction almost as much as listening to the different calls during the games. Anything that gets a football head coach flustered is okay in my book, primarily because such things eventuate from uncertainty, and uncertainty breeds entertainment.
Getting everything I have to do out of the way so I can watch #XFL football all weekend pic.twitter.com/9oHmPplVal
— XFL (@xfl2020) February 12, 2020

Football is at its best when the sharpest minds in the game are trying to fix problems with a difficulty level far beyond the New York Times crossword. That’s what now faces Zorn, the Dallas Renegades’ Bob Stoops and all the other coaches around the league heading into the second round of games this weekend (FOX, Saturday, 5 p.m. ET and FS1, Sunday, 6 p.m. ET).
A lot of thought went into exactly how to frame the XFL in its resurrection. FOX NFL and college football rules analyst Dean Blandino is head of officiating for the XFL, and he explained that in order to be successful, the league’s chiefs had a clear blueprint. The football had to be of a quality recognizable to NFL fans, and the additional pieces needed to provide an experience beyond what a viewer might usually get.
“At the core of it all, it had to be real football — real, high-quality football,” Blandino told me in a telephone interview. “But with the XFL there is no history, so there was a blank canvas to try things out. That means everyone is in the same boat — they all have to adapt.”
As the men with the playbook, the coaches are the ones who will have to do most to unlock the key to mastering the changes.
This is the video we needed on a Monday ❤️
Last night, BattleHawks coach Jonathan Hayes was presented the game ball by his big brother, Jay Hayes, after earning his first ever career win as a head coach! 👏👏
(via: @XFLBattleHawks) pic.twitter.com/PHOnOMzLHk
— XFL on FOX (@XFLonFOX) February 10, 2020

“I was ready for it,” Stoops told reporters after his Renegades lost 15-9 to the St. Louis BattleHawks. “Hey, I’m in here to do my part, to help the league in any way I can. So that means participating differently than I had before. Yeah, there’s people everywhere. Locker room, following you around. So, hey, I get it. I enjoyed watching it yesterday, the little bit I got to see. Hearing the play calls, the interviews. It’s great access for people that are interested in it. I think it will just help continue to grow.”
Brad Chisholm, a diehard NFL fan from Upland, Calif., was highly skeptical ahead of the opening games and didn’t have much intention of making the XFL part of his television schedule. Chisholm was at a bar last weekend when the XFL’s access got him hooked.
“I was watching and quite enjoying it, but I couldn’t hear what was going on,” Chisholm told me. “Then I started getting texts from my buddies saying, ‘you got to hear this.’ So I went home to listen to the coaching access. For me it was the best part of the whole thing. You feel like you’re in the game. The NFL will never allow that.”
Recap of football fans eating up all the XFL content over the weekend pic.twitter.com/siggsek6D8
— XFL on FOX (@XFLonFOX) February 10, 2020

He might be right — because the NFL doesn’t need to, because there is so much at stake, and because Bill Belichick might spontaneously combust if they tried it. For now, it is something that the XFL’s emerging fan base can enjoy and which its head coaches must get their heads around.
“The best part of all this is that innovation breeds creativity,” Blandino added. “We have a lot of outstanding football minds in the XFL. They are going to figure out solutions. People are enjoying that access and transparency, whether it is a coach making calls or getting to watch and the replay official make his decision.”
It is the early days, and let’s be real — the XFL has to sustain its initial buzz if it is going to avoid the fate of all the other secondary leagues that have come before it.
But the opening signs are strong and already the audience likes what it sees — and especially what it hears.

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