XFL’s tiebreaking scenarios cause confusion, drama in regular season’s final week

ESPN XFL Tiebreaker Graphic, Vegas at Seattle, Sunday April 23, 2023

The XFL heads into the playoffs this coming weekend not riding on the high it may have anticipated just a few weeks ago. Rather than fans discussing the matchups this weekend and who will be victorious leading into the championship game in San Antonio, the talk is about the messy tiebreakers used to determine the final playoff spot in the XFL North, and the fact that 7-3 St. Louis was left out of the postseason in favor of 4-6 Arlington.

I’m not going to get into the specifics of the tiebreaking scenarios – hell, after this weekend, I’m still not sure I fully grasp it. But therein lies the problem: If the average fan watching at home can’t wrap their heads around it, how enjoyable is their viewing experience going to be?

Those watching the games didn’t get much help from the announcers. During the Sunday night Sea Dragons vs. Vipers contest that would ultimately decide second-place in the North, play-by-play announcer John Schiffren explained the situation incorrectly throughout the first quarter. He referenced the negative feedback he and the network received on Twitter in reframing the tiebreaking scenarios during the second quarter.

If the announcers and production truck couldn’t get the explanation right – which, by the way, it’s their job to know and the XFL’s job to prep them on – what chance did fans have trying to piece it together? The situation also made for an awkward St. Louis vs. Orlando game, where the Battlehawks were forced to score as often as possible, even with the game out of hand, because it could affect the tiebreaker scenarios.

That led to St. Louis continuing to run up the score against a hapless Orlando defense. It went against everything players, coaches, and fans have been taught – the sportsmanship involved in wanting to beat your opponent, but not embarrass them.

An unscientific poll I conducted on Twitter in the aftermath of week ten asked fans to give their thoughts on the tiebreaker rules experienced over the weekend – with over 400 votes in, almost 60% voted for “Hated it! Too confusing” while about 40% voted “Liked it! Added drama.”

The good news is there are simple fixes to these problems, if the XFL so chooses. Upper management is likely to hold meetings throughout the offseason to discuss what worked, what didn’t, what should be changed for season two and what shouldn’t. There’s no doubt that the situation we saw in week ten will be among those topics discussed.

Solution 1: Simplify the tiebreakers

The XFL actually used the same tiebreaker scenarios the NFL uses; it’s just the NFL has never had to drop that far down the tiebreaker rabbit hole. As XFL VP of Officiating Dean Blandino mentioned on last week’s episode of The Markcast, the XFL’s season being so short lends itself more to the potential need for a deeper bank of tiebreakers.

With the league having experienced these tiebreakers in action, they may desire a simpler way to determine playoff teams. If it happened in the first year of the new league, it’s possible if not probable that it could happen again. Something as simple as difference in points scored versus points against would be a lot easier to apply, understand, and explain to the general audience.

Solution 2: Get rid of divisions

With just eight teams in the league, the thought is that divisions aren’t even necessary. Without divisions, the XFL would then take the four teams with the four best records into the playoffs. That would’ve put St. Louis in and left Arlington out. The downside to this is the lack of drama; this year, the playoff picture wasn’t settled until week ten. Without divisions, we would’ve known all the playoff teams much earlier. It would’ve taken a lot of interest out of week ten, and potentially some of the week nine games. For a league still trying to gain a foot-hold with fans, having so many games with nothing at stake is not something that will drum up interest. Certainly, the league has to weigh that against the blowback they’ve received about a 4-6 team making the playoffs over a 7-3 team.

A strong set of playoff games next weekend will quickly put these controversies in the rear-view mirror. But it would be a mistake for XFL management to simply write these off as complaints by the vocal minority. I’m not suggesting the XFL SHOULD make these changes, but changes of some sort to both of these situations should at least be on the table and considered in the offseason.

1 thought on “XFL’s tiebreaking scenarios cause confusion, drama in regular season’s final week”

  1. The first tie breaker should be head to head record and if there is a split then the second tie breaker would the aggregate score. For example in the first game team A beats teams B 27-16 but in the second game team B beats team A 16-7 then team A would win the tie breaker based on an aggregate score of 34-32. If the aggregate score is tied then the third tie breaker should be net points over the season, whoever has the highest wins the tie breaker.
    Only if after all this the teams are still tied should these other tie beakers come into play.


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