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2024 UFL season

United Football League has rules that depart from traditional football

The UFL continues the spring tradition of nontraditional football rules

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The United Football League kicks off Saturday. While much of the game will look familiar, the UFL, like the spring leagues before it, have rolled out some special rules.

1-, 2-, and 3-point conversions

There are no extra-point kicks. A team will have to put the ball in the endzone for a successful try. When a team scores a touchdown, the scoring team may snap the ball from the two-yard line to score one point, the five-yard line for two points, or the 10-yard line for three points. Once a team “declares” how many points they are going to try, that choice is final and cannot be changed, even after a penalty enforcement.

If the defense gets possession of the ball during a try for point, they can return the ball to score the number of points the other team was trying to score. This will definitely make for some interesting strategy.

Timing rules

The UFL, like the predecessor spring leagues, is eyeing on completing games within 3 hours.

Halftime at UFL games will be 12 minutes long (NFL has a 13-minute halftime). Also, the play clock will be 35 seconds, which helps increase the pace of the game.

Here are the interesting timing rules:

Outside the two-minute warning, the game clock will start after an incomplete pass or play that ends out of bounds. The game clock will start when the play clock reaches 30 seconds, even if the officials haven’t spotted the ball yet.

On a first down with less than two minutes to go in the half, the clock will stop on a first down. The clock will restart once the ball is spotted and the referee gives the signal to wind the clock.

Coin toss

The traditional coin toss is gone! Prior to kickoff, the referee will meet with the coaches and give them their possession options. The home team essentially “wins” the coin toss and has the option to defer their choice to the second half. If they do not defer, the home team can choose between receiving the first-half kickoff, kicking off, or which goal they’d like to defend. The visiting team then has the first choice for the second half unless the home team has deferred.

Passing game

In the immortal words of Jim Caldwell, we may see more “pass back and forth kind of things” in the UFL. The offense is allowed two forward passes from behind the line of scrimmage during each down. This should open up many trick-play opportunities for teams.

Pass interference will follow the NCAA rule with a 15-yard penalty (spot foul if the foul is less than 15 yards beyond the previous spot) and an automatic first down. The UFL has added a foul for “Intentional Pass Interference”, which is a spot penalty regardless of where the foul occurred on the field. The NFHS recently removed this type of foul from their rulebook.

“Worst rule in sports!” modified

The UFL use the rule implemented by the USFL and XFL in 2023 for any ball that is fumbled forward into and out of the end zone. The current rule in the NFL and all lower levels is that the offense loses possession of the ball and the defense is awarded a touchback and gets the ball on their own 20-yard line.

The UFL rule states that if the offense fumbles the ball into and out of bounds in the end zone, the offense retains possession of the ball at the spot of the fumble. So if the ball carrier fumbles at the two-yard line and the ball goes into and out of bounds in the end zone, the offense retains possession and will snap the ball next at the 2-yard line.

Kickoffs

The USFL and XFL had different kickoff formats last year, and a decision had to be made which one would stick. The UFL found the XFL format a little too radical, but the NFL owners liked it enough for the 2024 season.

The kickoff is largely going to represent the typical kickoff format of other football levels, except that all kickoffs and safety kicks would be taken from the 20, unless there is a penalty. The 9 upfield receiving team players have a 10 yard zone to line up in, which is a little narrower than the NFL’s 2023 format allowed. Interestingly, any kick that goes 20 yards untouched by the receiving team but touched by the kicking team would be treated as if it was a first touch on a punt, meaning the receiving team can opt to take that spot of first touching. This means the kicking team cannot recover a kickoff — a long or bouncing onside kick or a misplayed deep kick — beyond 20 yards.

A kickoff out of bounds goes 30 yards from the spot of the kick (typically, at the 50) or the out-of-bounds spot, if it is more favorable.

“Make it & Take it” onside scrimmage alternative

The Eagles have proposed multiple times in recent years to have a scrimmage alternative in the NFL, trying different distances and starting points. Outside of a few tryouts in Pro Bowls, this effort has been unsuccessful.

In the UFL, they have adopted an onside scrimmage alternative that is a 4th & 12 from the 28-yard line. Basically, this is a one-down attempt to gain 12 yards. The “make it and take it” slogan is just that, a successful conversion of the play is equivalent to a recovered onside kick. Since successful onside kicks are recovered around 10 yards, the 40-yard line as the line to gain is roughly equivalent. The difference between the onside kick is that the down continues until it is dead, whereas when a kicking team player recovers a kick, the ball is dead at that spot. This can allow the “kicking” team to advance, but also the “receiving” team can cause a turnover and also advance.

Overtime

The UFL has an interesting overtime structure that highlights the league’s unique approach to the extra-point conversions. The extra period will consist of 3 two-point attempts for each team from the 5-yard line of a predetermined end of the field. The two teams will alternate attempts, with the home team again having the choice of playing offense or defense first. If, after three attempts, the score is still tied, the teams will alternate until there is a winner.

Replay

The UFL has opted to reopen the proverbial can of worms by allowing head coaches to challenge any on-field ruling, including those involving a foul or potential foul. However, head coaches only get one challenge per game and there does not appear to be any avenue for the teams to earn an extra challenge.


There are other editorial rules changes and some other rules on kicks that get deep into the weeds. But, give credit to the UFL for forging ahead with new playing rules. Who knows? Some of these rule changes may make it to the NFL in the future.

Ben Austro contributed to this report.

Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"

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