Like its two most recent spring-league predecessors, the Alliance of American Football (AAF) and XFL 2.0, the new USFL will feature its fair share of rules-related wrinkles when it kicks off its inaugural season this coming Saturday, April 16. In fact, for its initial season, the USFL has implemented a variation of some of the innovations each of those entities deployed.
As with the AAF and the XFL, the goal is not to drastically alter the overall appearance of the game of pro football, but to address certain sticking points in NFL rules that have been possibly overdue for an overhaul and to add more excitement to the offensive aspects of the game in the process.
Below is an overview of the main rule-based innovations the USFL will utilize during its first season:
USFL teams will still have the option of going for the traditional single point after a touchdown. That will be attempted via a kick from the opposing team's 15-yard line.
Additionally, teams will have the option of a two-point conversion, which, like the NFL, will be attempted from the opposing team's 2-yard line via a scrimmage play.
However, like the XFL, a team can also attempt a three-point conversion, which can be attained by successfully reaching the end zone on a scrimmage play from the opponent's 10-yard line.
Main Benefit Takeaway: Teams can be down by as much as nine points and still tie the game with a touchdown and successful three-point conversion.
Like the NFL, a team can attempt a traditional onside kick. In the USFL, the onside kick originates from a team's own 25-yard line and the ball must travel at least 10 yards before the kicking team can successfully recover it.
However, in a slight twist on an AAF rule, a team can also attempt an onside kick via a scrimmage play. A team wishing to avail themselves of this option will run a 4th-and-12 play from their own 33-yard line (the AAF required teams to run the play from their own 28). If the play isn't successfully converted, the opposing team is awarded the ball wherever the prior play ended.
Main Benefit Takeaway: There is a viable, entertaining alternative at a critical point in the game to a play with a low percentage of success, the traditional onside kick.
Overtime: Best-of-3 Shootout
The USFL will also slightly modify the XFL's overtime rules to create an environment of enhanced urgency in the extra period while giving each team an equal amount of opportunities to score.
In the USFL's version of OT, each team will get three chances apiece (the XFL gave each team five opportunities) to score from the opponent's two-yard line. Each successful conversion will count for two points. If the two teams are still tied after each has made their three attempts, traditional sudden-death rules kick in.
Main Benefit Takeaway: Each team has equal chances to prevail in overtime, and because of the proximity to the line of scrimmage each play unfolds from, there can be plenty of scoring.
Two Forward Passes Behind Line Of Scrimmage
Like the XFL, the USFL will allow a team to utilize up to two forward passes behind the line of scrimmage on the same play as long as the ball doesn't cross the line of scrimmage before the second pass attempt.
Main Benefit Takeaway: Offensive playbooks are expanded further and there is greater potential for entertaining, innovative trick plays.
Instant Replay: Each team will be allowed to initiate one replay challenge per game, and all calls will be centrally judged by Replay Command at the Fox Sports Control Center in Los Angeles.
However, in addition to the team-initiated replay challenges, Replay Command can also overrule what are determined to be incorrect calls on personal fouls, including roughing the passer, defenseless player calls, horse-collar tackles and facemask penalties.
Main Benefit Takeaway: What appear to be clearly incorrect personal foul calls are frustratingly left in place in the NFL under its current replay system, which can often alter the outcome of a game to an appreciable degree. However, this should largely be eliminated in the USFL.
Specific Penalty Rules
Defensive Pass Interference: In the USFL, defensive interference is considered a spot foul if occurring less than 15 yards from the line of scrimmage. However, it will also only be a 15-yard penalty anytime it occurs beyond 15 yards from the line of scrimmage, without limit.
The one exception will be if the on-field officials or Replay Command determines that a defensive player intentionally tackled a potential pass catcher. In such cases, the penalty will be treated as a spot foul.
Offensive Pass Interference/ Ineligible Player Downfield: If a pass does not cross the line of scrimmage there will be no penalty enforceable for offensive pass interference or ineligible player downfield.
Main Benefit Takeaway: Defensive pass interference will cease to be a somewhat cheap path to a sizable chunk of yardage without having to complete a pass, but the possibility of a spot foul rightfully remains if there's an egregious attempt by the defense to interfere with a would-be receiver.
In the USFL, the following rules apply to kickoffs:
- Kickoffs will originate from a team's own 25-yard line.
- No kicking team member can line up further back than one yard before the ball is kicked off.
- The receiving team must have at least eight players in a "set-up zone" between their own 35- yard line and 45-yard line.
- On any non-onside kickoff that travels at least 20 yards, the first touching of the ball must be by the receiving team.
- Any untouched kicks that roll dead will result in possession being awarded to the receiving team at that spot.
Main Benefit Takeaway: Greater player safety, in part because there are fewer chances for a live ball on kickoffs.
The USFL on DraftKings
DraftKings will offer a full array of DFS contests for the USFL in its inaugural season. Like the actual on-field product, USFL DFS will largely mirror DK's NFL contest offerings in both roster construction and scoring setup:
Offensive Player Categories
- Passing TDs = +4 points
- 25 passing yards = +1 point
- 300+yard passing game = +3 points
- Interception = -1 point
- Rushing TD = +6 points
- 10 rushing yards = +1 point
- 100+ rushing game = +3 points
- Receiving TD = +6 points
- 100-yard receiving game = +3 points
- Reception = +1 point
- Punt/Kickoff/FG Return for TD = +6 points
- Fumble Lost = -1 point
- 2 Point Conversion (Pass, Run or Catch) = +2 points
- 3 Point Conversion (Pass, Run or Catch) = +3 points
- Offensive fumble recovery TD = +6 points
- Sack = +1 point
- Interception = +2 points
- Fumble recovery = +2 points
- Punt/Kickoff/FG Return for TD = +6 points
- Interception return TD = +6 points
- Fumble recovery TD = +6 points
- Blocked punt or FG return TD= +6 points
- Safety = +2 points
- Blocked kick = +2 points
- Conversion/XP return = +2 points
- 0 Points Allowed = +10 points
- 1-6 Points Allowed= +7 points
- 7-13 Points Allowed= +4 points
- 14-20 Points Allowed = +1 point
- 21-27 Points Allowed = +0 points
- 28-34 Points Allowed = -1 point
- 35+ Points Allowed = -4 points
The following scoring plays will result in Points Allowed by your Defense/Special Teams:
- Rushing TDs, Passing TDs, Offensive Fumble Recovery TDs, Punt Return TDs, Kick Return TDs, FG Return TDs, Blocked FG TDs, Blocked Punt TDs
- Point after TD conversions (1-3 point conversions)
- Field goals
- A fumble recovery will be awarded to a Defense/Special Teams if the team's offense recovers a fumble by the opposing defense (e.g. after an offensive turnover).
- Overtime attempts will be scored as 2-point conversions.
- Individual offensive player stats for yards and receptions during a 2- or 3-point conversion attempt will not accumulate to an individual's game total in those respective categories.
- The 4th down alternative kickoff attempt will be treated as a normal offensive play and stats for offensive players and defense/special teams will accumulate as such.
- Any post-touchdown conversion attempts that are returned by the defense for a score are eligible for the "Conversion/Extra Point Return" stat but are not eligible for the safety stat.
- Post-touchdown conversion attempt interceptions or fumbles recovered by the defense are not counted towards the defensive scoring.
- In the event of a double forward pass play, only the second pass outcome will be scored for passing and receiving stats.
DraftKings USFL Contests Lineup Requirements
DraftKings DFS lineups will consist of 7 players and must include players from at least 2 different USFL teams. The 7 roster positions are:
- 1 Quarterback
- 1 Running Back
- 2 Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
- 2 Flex positions
- 1 Defense/Special Teams
DraftKings USFL DFS Strategy Elements To Consider:
The rule tweaks unique to the USFL discussed previously won't have a sizable impact on how DFS players should approach DK contests, as the scoring categories are virtually identical to the site's NFL contests.
Lineup construction is different, however, with a particularly heavy tilt toward the passing game depending on how users deploy their flex spots.
Here are a few points to ponder with respect to USFL DFS strategy that takes the roster makeup and rules into account:
- Unlike NFL DK DFS contests, it's possible to roll with just one RB and stock up on four pass catchers. In the first year of a new league, many offensive lines may indeed be more adept at pass blocking than opening up holes in the running game consistently
- The existence of up to a 3-point conversion and an onside kick play that could yield more consistent success may well lead to less garbage time instances and more overtime games.
- However, stat padding in OT will be limited, considering the format calls for plays from the 2-yard line and the only scoring is 2 points per successful conversion (no yardage during conversion attempts at any point in a game count toward that player's game total).
- Offenses will have fewer overall chances to get into scoring territory from deep in their own end via penalty because of modified pass interference rules, which could help Team Defense scores over the course of the season.
- Yet, allowing two forward passes behind the line of scrimmage gives the offense an advantage in terms of a surprise element and could lead to bigger chunk plays downfield for aggressive schemes.