The 2020 X League campaign will kick off on Saturday, nearly two months later than usual, with teams playing under exceptional regulations this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The season will start with two contests, one of which is a matchup between the four-time defending champion Fujitsu Frontiers and Nojima Sagamihara Rise at Fujitsu Stadium Kawasaki.

Eight clubs contested the top division known as “X1 Super” last season, but just seven teams will square off this year after the All-Mitsubishi Lions withdrew from the competition.

The seven are divided into two blocks. Fujitsu, Nojima, the IBM BigBlue and the Elecom Kobe Finies are playing in Block A while the Obic Seagulls, Panasonic Impulse and Tokyo Gas Creators are allocated to Block B. The regular season will end on Nov. 23.

The top teams in each block will advance to the Japan X Bowl, the league’s annual championship, on Dec. 15 at Tokyo Dome. The winner will take on the Koshien Bowl collegiate champion in the Rice Bowl on Jan. 3 at the same venue.

“It’ll be an unusual season but the goal we’re aiming at remains the same, which is to focus on winning every game and shoot for the championship,” Fujitsu head coach Yo Yamamoto said during an online news conference on Monday. “We would like to play every play like our last play as we have always done in order to provide some hope in this era of the coronavirus.”

Should a team be unable to play due to coronavirus infections among their squad, their game will be counted as a no contest.

All players are required to wear mouth shields to help reduce the spread of droplets, while the length of a timeout will be extended from 1 minute to 90 seconds in order to give players more time to rehydrate.

Regular-season games will have attendance caps, with as many as 1,000 fans allowed into Fujitsu Stadium and a maximum of 750 permitted to enter Expo Flash Field in Suita, Osaka Prefecture.

The league will determine its attendance limit for the Japan X Bowl at a later time.

The X League’s spring season, a unique feature of the league that culminates in the regional Pearl Bowl and Green Bowl championships, was called off this year because of the pandemic.

Fujitsu wide receiver Riki Matsui (above) celebrates with his teammates after catching a touchdown pass during the team's playoff game against the Finies in Kawasaki on Nov. 30. | KAZ NAGATSUKA
Fujitsu wide receiver Riki Matsui (above) celebrates with his teammates after catching a touchdown pass during the team’s playoff game against the Finies in Kawasaki on Nov. 30. | KAZ NAGATSUKA

As a result, IBM quarterback/head coach Kevin Craft said that the 2020 fall season will bring “something more realistic to what a football season in America is like.”

“In America, there are no games in the spring and practice is limited every year due to the violent nature of our sport and the safety of players,” said Craft, a former UCLA signal caller. “This format doesn’t stop teams in America from developing great teams and playing in the fall season. And I think our league is going to see the same kind of quality play that we have seen in recent years.”

Tokyo Gas head coach Masato Itai had a positive perspective on the long quarantine period, which prevented teams from being able to practice sufficiently.

“Like other teams, we have not practiced as much as normal years,” said Itai, a former wide receiver in the now-defunct NFL Europe. “But we’ve had so many online meetings and deepened our communication between our players and coaches compared to previous years.”

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