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World Football League

No doubt about it, the WFL was a league that did bring some strange but innovative ideas to the game of pro football. But, you ask, what were these innovations? It all had to do with the innovative rule changes they made. There were at least fifteen of them, most of which are still in use by the NFL today. Here is what those rule changes were.
  • Kickoffs from the 30-yard-line. Obviously, the WFL saw the same problem back then as the NFL did two years ago. I guess this change was made to cut down on touchbacks and encourage more returns on kickoffs. Makes it more fun, don't you think?
  • Seven points for a TD. This was something more common with the early days of football. This change was made to (presumably) increase scoring and cut down on field goals.
  • The ever-popular "action point." This was what the WFL was generally remembered for. The action point is more of what the two-point conversion is today, only the NFL never used it (the CFL definitely did). The action point was attempted only after a touchdown either by a run or a pass. The ball would be spotted on the two-yard-line and be attempted. This eliminated the extra-point try by the kicker. If I was a kicker there, I'd be cheesed off, too!
  • Receivers needed only one foot inbounds for a pass reception. This was a college rule brought in by the WFL to try and eliminate any kind of controversy concerning pass receptions. It still didn't stop instant replay though, did it?
  • Elimination of the bump-and-run. The WFL made it a point to open up the passing game and in an effort to do this, the league made it a point to eliminate a widely-popular tactic against the pass. The defensive backs were not allowed to touch a receiver within three yards of the line of scrimmage. This way, if a team had a speedy, sure-handed receiver, he now had the opportunity to smoke any DB at will.
  • Missed field goals will be returned to the line of scrimmage, except when within the 20-yard-line. Sometimes, kickers usually try to hit a long field goal, say about 50 yards or more. If he missed, then the ball would come back to the 20-yard-line. This rule would hurt the kicker even more, if missing the field goal wasn't bad enough. If the field goal was within or at 30 yards, then the ball came back to the 20. Otherwise, it would be a long way back to where the ball was snapped or placed.
  • Goalposts moved 10 yards back to the rear of then end zone. Could this be to stop players from crashing into the posts on pass or rushing plays?
  • Offensive back is allowed in motion toward line of scrimmage before ball is snapped. Before this rule, the offense had to be set until the ball is snapped. With this rule change, it allowed the offenses to make more plays that they never would have thought of doing in the past.
  • The overtime period, or "fifth quarter," is split into 7 1/2 minute segments to resolve ties. The CFL does this as well, only the segments are 10 minutes. Obviously, no one likes a football game to end in a tie. The WFL wanted to make an effort to break ties, but not in the sudden-death fashion. I don't think too many teams got a kick out of that one. They changed the rule in 1975 so that a full 15-minute sudden death period be played.
  • Fair catches will not be permitted on punts. The CFL uses this rule as well.
  • The hash marks will be moved in toward the center of the field. The WFL moved the hash marks approximately 70 yards away from the sidelines. Obviously wanted to give the kicker a better field-goal placement!
  • Any incompleted pass on 4th down will return to the line of scrimmage. This rule replaced a rule which stated that any 4th down pass inside the 20 shall be returned to the 20. I guess the WFL wanted to treat the quarterbacks the same as the kickers!
  • On all kicks, until the ball is declared dead, there will be no blocking below the waists.
  • Offensive holding and ineligible offensive player downfield penalties will be reduced to 10 yards instead of 15. You mean they were personal fouls back then?
  • A kicking tee can be used on field goals as well as kickoffs. All leagues practically did this (until the NFL stopped it a while back).
  • Many have told me that a "dicker-rod" was used in 1974. I have not seen this device, so if anyone has a picture of it, please send it to me. Here was a description I received:

    The dicker-rod was a 2 yard rod with the WFL symbol on top (the same symbol appears frequently on your web site) The dicker-rod had a marker (a small stick that extended out of the rod) on the rod which was used to mark the distance from the gridline (5,10,15,20 ... yard lines). The dicker-rod was used by one individual, and replaced the two-man first-down chains.

    Example of its use: A team has a 1st ∓ 10 on it's own 23. The dicker-rod is placed on the 23. Keeping the bottom on the ground, the rod is put on the ground to intersect the nearest gridline (25 yard-line). The marker is placed on the rod at the gridline intersection (2 yards up the rod). The rod was then brought up field, the marker on the rod was placed on the 35 yard-line. The bottom of the rod was put on the ground, the rod was stood up-right. Now, the rod is at the 33 yard-line.

    When measuring for a first-down the rod was brought out and the marker on the rod was used to measure the distance from the 35 yard-line to the 33 yard-line. When measuring for a first down the dicker-rod was actually faster. The operator did not have to wait to be ushered onto the field by a referee, and players did not have to get out of the way of a 10 yard chain. The operator simply ran out with the rod and the first-down was measured.

    There you have it, a somewhat simplified explanation of the dicker-rod. The WFL went to the standard box-and-chains in 1975.
Well, there you have it. The fifteen rule changes that made the World Football League different from the NFL. Who would have thought that some of these rule changes made by the WFL could revolutionize the game of football today?
Here's another dilly of a rule the WFL tried to institute. It involved the field goal and its point value. During the 1975 preseason, the league tried an experiment that didn't sit well with the teams, not to mention the kickers. Here's how it went, and remember, the field goal attempt had to be successful: If the line of scrimmage was inside the 10-yard-line, the field goal was worth only one point. If the line of scrimmage was between the 10 and the 20, it was worth two points. If it was beyond the 20, it was worth the usual three points. Needless to say, the owners scrapped the proposal. Can't say I blame 'em.
© 1996-2005 Robert Phillips. All rights reserved.