After successful first season that set the standard for others to follow, USFL adds more rules to give fans more action while increasing fairness
USFL moves kickoff to 20-yard line to increase returns and maintain player safety, changes rule involving fumbles from field of play into and out of the end zone, and gives teams emergency 3rd quarterback
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (April 13, 2023) – When the Memphis Showboats take on the Philadelphia Stars in the USFL’s 2023 kick-off game on Saturday, April 15 (4:30 PM ET/3:30 PM CT), they’ll be playing traditional football that is familiar to fans of today’s professional and college games, but with modern twists that act as a catalyst for the evolution of the game.
During a remarkably successful first season in 2022, the USFL set a new standard for groundbreaking rules that increased fan interest and started a conversation about moving the game forward for others to follow. As it becomes the first nationally televised professional spring football league in nearly 40 years to begin a second season, the USFL is once again leading the way with new rules that give fans more action while increasing fairness.
The USFL prides itself on being the most fan-friendly professional sports league in America, so last year, we implemented rules we thought worked at the professional and college levels while adding some of our own innovations to give fans the traditional play they know and love with more fast-paced elements,” said Mike Pereira, USFL Head of Officiating. “We’re proud our rules started a conversation throughout the football landscape that delivered big play potential, enhanced player safety, improved game flow, provided more scoring opportunities for trailing teams, and centralized replay to get officiating calls right in a way that’s fair, transparent, and fast.”
During the 2022 season, innovative USFL rules brought back the excitement of traditional kickoff returns while maintaining player safety, created an electrifying and time-efficient overtime shootout that enhanced player safety while being fair to both teams, added the possibility of 9-point scores with 3-point, 2-point, or 1-point conversion opportunities, allowed double forward passes, and initiated a “4th down-and-12” play as an alternative to rarely successful onside kicks.
In 2023, we’re taking it one step further with new innovative rules that will keep fans more engaged and entertained while collectively being good for the game of football that we all love,” concluded Pereira.
Through its social media channels today, the League will officially reveal several 2023 USFL rules videos featuring Pereira that include:
- Moving the kickoff spot back to the 20-yard line to increase returns and excitement in a traditional way that fans enjoy. Kicking off from the 25-yard line in 2022, the USFL had an 81 percent return rate. Moving the ball back five more yards should increase returns to the desired USFL return rate of 90 percent while maintaining player safety.
- Changing the rule that when a runner fumbles the ball from the field of play into and out of the end zone, the ball is returned to the spot of the fumble and the fumbling team retains possession.
- Allowing each team to carry an inactive emergency third quarterback. To ensure fairness, if he is activated and enters the game anytime in the first three quarters, the first two quarterbacks cannot re-enter the game. If he enters in the 4th quarter, the original two quarterbacks may reenter.
Retaining most of the pioneering rules from the USFL inaugural season last year, here’s an overview governing gameplay in 2023.
- Kickoffs will be from the 20-yard line. Kicking team members must line up within one yard behind the 20 and must be stationary when the ball is kicked. Receiving teams must have a minimum of 8, up to a maximum of 9, players lined up in the set-up zone (between their 30- and 40-yard lines)
- Kickoffs out of bounds will be placed 30 yards from the spot of the kick — normally, the receiving team takes possession at the 50-yard line
Effect: Create more, yet safe, exciting kickoff returns.
Reason: Increase big-play potential with more returned kickoffs and decrease touchbacks.
ONSIDE KICK VS. SCRIMMAGE PLAY
- Teams will have two options to retain possession of the ball after scoring. The first option will be a traditional onside kick attempt from the 20-yard line. The second will be running a “4th down and 12” play from their own 33-yard line. If the team makes a first down, it retains possession. If it fails to make a first down, then the opposing team takes over at the dead ball spot.
Effect: Create an alternate way for trailing teams to keep the ball after scoring.
Reason: Successfully executing and recovering an onside kick is rare, so this rule provides another option while increasing risk/reward strategy for coaches.
- Overtime remains a best of three-play shootout. The winner of a coin toss may choose to go on offense or defense first and USFL Command Center will determine which side of the field will be used. Each team’s offense will alternate possessions against the opposing defense from the 2-yard line. Each successful scoring attempt will receive two points. The team with the most points after three possessions wins. If the score is tied at the end of three possessions for each team, overtime advances to sudden death. Each team will get one possession and will continue until there is a winner.
Effect: Both teams have equal chance of winning, and time-efficient shootout enhances player safety.
Reason: Create more excitement and fairness.
- Scoring teams will have three options to attempt extra points. Teams will receive:
– One point for a successful kick between the uprights snapped from the 15-yard line.
– Two points for a successful scrimmage play from the 2-yard line.
– Three points for a successful scrimmage play from the 10-yard line.
- If the defense scores on an attempted try, it will be a 2-point score regardless of the try attempt.
- Prior to the extra point, the scoring team cannot change its original option unless a timeout is used or the defense commits a foul prior to the snap.
Effect: Trailing teams have a better chance to close the gap with opportunity for 9-point scores.
Reason: Add late-game excitement by improving chances of comebacks.
TWO FORWARD PASSES
- The offense can throw two forward passes from behind the line of scrimmage. Ineligible receiver rules apply to the second forward pass.
Effect: Add plays to offensive game plans.
Reason: Add excitement and trick-play potential.
- Gunners may not line up outside the numbers when the ball is snapped, and they cannot be double-team blocked until the ball is kicked.
Effect: Reduce player injuries and penalties.
Reason: Enhance player safety and game flow.
- A ball fumbled forward from the field of play into the end zone and out of bounds will be returned to the spot of the fumble and the fumbling team retains possession.
Effect: Consistent enforcement in the field of play and end zone.
Reason: Increase fairness.
INSTANT REPLAY & USFL COMMAND CENTER
- USFL Command Center in Los Angeles will make all replay decisions. Command Center will be in contact with the referee to aid the official in penalty enforcement and timing. Command Center can review reviewable plays without a coach having to challenge if the ruling is deemed to be obviously incorrect. Command Center will review all scores and potential scores. When determining a catch or incomplete pass, Command Center will review control and two feet (the element of time is left in the hands of the on-field officials).
Effect: One centralized replay crew will make all decisions.
Reason: Achieve accurate, consistent, transparent, and faster rulings.
- Each coach will be allowed one replay challenge.
Effect: Fewer challenges needed thanks to expedited reviews and video assistance.
Reason: Improve game flow.
- USFL Command Center can overrule incorrect personal foul calls, including roughing the passer, hits on defenseless players, facemasks, horsecollars, and more. Command Center may change a 15-yard pass interference foul to a spot foul if it is determined to be flagrant when it occurs 15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
Effect: Correct obvious officiating miscalls related to personal fouls.
Reason: Get the call right, increase sportsmanlike conduct, and achieve greater fairness.
- The clock will start after incomplete passes the entire first and third quarters and outside of 5 minutes of the second and fourth quarters. When a runner goes out of bounds, the clock will start on the ready for play except inside of 2 minutes of the second and fourth quarters. The clock will remain stopped after a penalty inside of 2 minutes of the second and fourth quarters. The clock will stop after a first down inside of 2 minutes in the second and fourth quarters. Halftime length is 10 minutes. The play clock is 35-seconds.
Effect: Keep games under 3 hours, create more offensive plays during the final minutes of each half.
Reason: Maximize fan enjoyment and player safety.
DEFENSIVE PASS INTERFERENCE
- The penalty for defensive pass interference will mirror the NCAA rule with exceptions. First, a defender intentionally tackling a receiver beyond 15 yards would become a spot foul (determined by USFL Command Center). Also, the penalty will be a spot foul if it occurs 15 yards or less from the line of scrimmage or a 15-yard penalty from the line of scrimmage if the spot of the foul is beyond 15 yards.
Effect: Reduce penalty yardage.
Reason: Decrease punitive nature of defensive pass interference penalties.
OFFENSIVE PASS INTERFERENCE
- If a pass does not cross the line of scrimmage, there can be no pass interference or ineligible player downfield penalties.
Effect: Open the offense; forgo punishment for infractions unrelated to play.
Reason: Add offense without undermining defense.
About the United States Football League (USFL):
Fun, fast, and physical, the USFL is a fan-first, stand-alone major professional spring football league. Run by experienced football leaders, the USFL’s successful first season finished July 3, 2022, at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Village in Canton, Ohio, with the Birmingham Stallions winning the championship by defeating the Philadelphia Stars, 33-30. FOX Sports and NBC Sports are official media partners, presenting all 43 regular- and postseason games for the eight-team league. Former NFL Dallas Cowboys player and current FOX NFL analyst Daryl Johnston is President of Football Operations. Former NFL Vice President of Officiating and current FOX NFL analyst Mike Pereira is Head of Officiating. “United By Football” for fans of America’s favorite sport, USFL Season 2 kicks-off April 15, 2023. For scheduling and ticketing information, visit theUSFL.com and follow on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok.