The USFL kicks off in about three weeks, bringing Spring football back to America. The fledgling league will have the field all to itself this season, before the return of the XFL under the stewardship of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in 2023.
The USFL will comprise 8 teams, and the entire inaugural season will be played in Birmingham, Alabama with brand-new Protective Stadium (seats 47,100) and historic Legion Field (71, 574) serving as the venues. The league is hopeful that teams will play in their own markets starting next year.
The season kicks off on 16 April with a Saturday game between the Birmingham Stallions and the New Jersey Generals. The other six teams will square off against one another on Sunday, 17 April.
The regular season will last 10 weeks with two playoff rounds to follow. Teams in the same division will play each other twice and teams in the other division once. The season is currently set to end on July 3.
Fox Sports is a part-owner of the league, and is reported to have committed $150m-$200m to help fund the league for three years. Of course, 22 of the 43 regular season games will be broadcast by Fox Sports, with the balance being broadcast on FOX, NBC, USA Network, and FS1. Many of the games will be carried on two networks at the same time.
Interestingly, the league has 2 games scheduled on 30 April, the last day of the NFL Draft in Las Vegas.
Brian Woods, a co-founder of the league, is the new USFL’s President of Football Operations with Daryl Johnston, former Dallas Cowboys fullback, a three-time Super Bowl champion, and longtime color commentator, as the executive vice president. Longtime NFL referee and current FOX Sports rules analyst Mike Pereira is the head of officiating, and Edward Hartman is EVP of business operations.
The head coaches are Bart Andrus (Philadelphia Stars), Larry Fedora (New Orleans Breakers), Jeff Fisher (Michigan Panthers), Todd Haley (Tampa Bay Bandits), Skip Holtz (Birmingham Stallions), Mike Riley (New Jersey Generals), Kevin Sumlin (Houston Gamblers), and Kirby Wilson (Pittsburgh Maulers).
I scanned the list of drafted players, initially looking for former Washington players. It quickly devolved into a hunt for any names I recognized. Here are the ones that jumped out at me (or at least caught my attention as I scrolled down the page):
- J’Mar Davis-Smith
- Victor Bolden Jr
- Tyree Robinson
- Scooby Wright
- Clayton Thorson
- Paxton Lynch
- Jeff Badet (former Washington receiver)
- Darrius Shepherd
- Nick Rose (former Washington kicker)
- Kyle Sloter
- Davin Bellamy
- Adonis Alexander (former Washington safety - supplemental draft pick)
- Kyle Lauletta
- Chidi Okeke (OL had a cup of coffee with Washington)
- Isaiah Battle
- Jordan Ta’amu
- Tyler Catalina (former Washington OL)
- Vinny Papale (son of the Eagles wide receiver - see: Invincible film)
- Obi Henry Melifonwu
Out of roughly 280 names from the draft, these were the ones I recognized. I have no doubt that any college football fan would recognize a whole lot more. If you want to check for yourself, click here.
Player pay structure in 2022 will be $45,000 for Active Roster players, $15,000 for Practice Squad Players, and $600 weekly during training camp. Players will also receive win bonuses of $850 per win and $10,000 for winning the championship.
One nice thing about a new league is that it can try new things. Here are some of the USFL rules that will be different from NFL rules:
- Teams will have three options to attempt a point(s) after touchdown:
- PAT kick from the 15-yard line (same as the NFL)
- Two-point conversion from the two-yard line (also same as the NFL)
- Three-point conversion from the 10-yard line (same as the XFL in 2001 and 2020, though in those leagues, there was no option to kick the PAT.)
- Overtime will consist of teams attempting three alternating two-point tries; whoever has the most points after the three tries will be the winner. If still tied after three attempts, overtime becomes sudden death and the next successful attempt ends the game. Coin toss will be called by the visiting team; whoever wins the toss can choose to go on offense or defense. One timeout can be called per try.
- Two forward passes from behind the line of scrimmage are legal; this rule was originally introduced in the XFL in 2020.
- An offensive lineman may advance downfield on a forward pass play in which the pass does not cross the line of scrimmage.
- Defensive pass interference will be penalized similar to college football (15-yard penalty or spot foul if within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage), but if it is determined the defensive player intentionally interfered with the receiver the penalty will be a spot foul similar to the NFL rule. No pass interference foul will be called if the ball fails to cross the line of scrimmage.
- Each coach will be allowed one replay challenge per game; he will lose a timeout if he fails, but keep it if successful. All challenges and replay reviews will take place at Fox’s facilities in Los Angeles. Replay challenges are automatic in last two minutes of half and overtime, besides scoring plays and turnovers, as in the NFL.
- All kickoffs will be from the kicking team’s 25-yard line. No kicking team member may line up any further back than 1 yard, while the receiving team must have at least eight players in the setup zone between their 35 and 45.
- If an untouched kick becomes dead, the ball belongs to the receiving team at that spot; a kicking team may not recover or touch its own kickoff beyond 20 yards from the spot of the kick.
- A trailing team can choose to execute either an onside kick under standard rules or, in lieu of a kickoff, attempt to gain 12 yards on a scrimmage play from the offense’s 33-yard line, mirroring a similar rule used in the AAF in 2019 and Fan Controlled Football in 2021.
- On punts, gunners may not line up outside the numbers and they cannot be double-team blocked until the ball is kicked.
- The clock will stop for first downs after the two-minute warning in the second and fourth quarters.
Me? I’m a fan of Spring-league football. I was watching and enjoying the AAF games in the pre-COVID world before the league folded, and if I can manage to find the USFL games on TV here in Bangkok or somewhere online, then I will be watching this new league as well.
Football in the Spring! You gotta love it...