The Leadoff: Is the AAF doomed

Feb. 10 this year was the annual sad Sunday. It is the first Sunday after the NFL season officially ends and the only acceptable time for men to cry. Once sad Sunday is upon us it is no longer socially acceptable to scream obscenities at your television while cheese from your stuffed crust pizza looms in the corners of your beard like a forgotten cobweb. Football is no longer an acceptable excuse to miss a church service or avoid brunch with your significant other’s friends that can’t stop talking about the “Bachelor.” As the weather warms up Sunday morning hikes start being offered up, as if anyone wants to exercise on the weekends, but our built-in excuse has been ripped from our clutches like a Mother finding her child about to put something off the ground into their mouth.  But, it is the saddest of Sunday’s most of all because football is over. But is it?

If you were like me, which I presume most of you are seeing as the top four highest rated programs in 2018 were NFL football related, you spent the two last weekend trying to find ways to avoid television so to not be reminded of this dark time between football’s end and football’s beginning. However, I have a disease, an addiction, if you will. Every weekend I must watch sports to get my fix. Without them, I become bed-ridden with withdrawals, cold-sweats, chanting things like “low man wins,” and “defense wins championships,” over and over into the universe while drawing up double-reverse fumblerooski’s on the walls using the blood from my own fingers. I’ll watch anything, I recently found myself power-ranking two-handed bowlers over the weekend because sports discussion is the air that fills my lungs.

Then, to my surprise, I found what looked to be football. Like finding $20 in the pocket of an old pair of pants I was ecstatic. The jersey’s looked funny and the scoring seemed a little off but there were no padded walls just feet from the field of play and no receivers running a 40-yard-dash before the snap of the ball, this was actual football.

If you haven’t seen the new league or heard of it, it is called the American Alliance of Football or the AAF. The league has not been established as competition to the NFL. Instead think of it as something of a farm league. It has been founded by Charlie Ebersol, son of legendary television executive Dick Ebersol who began the broadcasting of the NFL at NBC, and Bill Polian, a Hall of Fame NFL executive that I personally think should be in the Hall of very good, instead.

If you have been hearing whispers of the XFL returning to TV you are not wrong, that is scheduled to begin in 2020, but Ebersol took the XFL’s idea, tweaked it, and then beat Vince McMahon to market.  

So what is the AAF? It is professional football with a few tweaks and rather than having stars in their universe they are more moon-driven, in that their players are generally smaller, unknown, produce no light, and are ultimately less important.

The AAF comes with four main rule changes that separate it from the NFL. The first two rule changes are just blatant middle fingers to kickers, which I am here for. There are no kickoffs in the AAF, drives automatically begin from the 25-yard line. If a team elects for an onside kick, they are given a 4th-and-12 from their own 35-yard line.

The next, and best, rule change is there are no extra points. A touchdown is work six points and that is that.

The third rule change is to overtime and it is a bit wacky, but I believe they are just trying to build on all the discussion that was taking place in the NFL two months ago which isn’t a bad strategy. In overtime, each team will get a possession from the 10-yard line and have four plays to score and must go for two, field goals are not permitted in OT. I hope you like kissing your sister because there are lots of ways to tie. If both teams fail to score a touchdown, tie. If both teams score a touchdown and convert the two-point conversion, tie. If both teams score a touchdown and fail to convert the two-point conversion, tie.

The last major rule change is shortening the game clock from 40 seconds — where it currently stands in the NFL — to 30 seconds. This move has very little effect as offenses in both leagues are moving at a much faster past and rarely have an issue with the play clock.

The AAF is made up of eight teams: Arizona Hotshots, Atlanta Legends, Birmingham Iron, Memphis Express, Orland Apollos, Salt Lake Stallions, San Antonio Commanders and the San Diego Fleet. The league has far more star power in its coaches than anywhere else. Names like Michael Vick, Troy Polamalu, Mike Martz, and Mike Singletary are all coaches in the AAF while their most noteworthy player is… um… Trent Richardson?

The first two games for the AAF aired Feb. 9 on CBS. The AAF has established partnerships with CBS, TNT, B/R Live, TBS and other Turner Broadcast entities, and posted a 2.9 which was great and actually beat the ratings of the Houston Rockets versus Oklahoma City Thunder NBA game that was also happening in primetime on ABC. We have seen strong ratings in similar situations, the original incarnation of the XFL drew a 9.7 on opening weekend, but the true test is how it holds our attention.

The on-the-field product is obviously not what you get in the NFL, but it is still entertaining. At one point I saw one quarterback's helmet shoot off like the head of a rock’em sock’em robot. A big part of why we love the NFL so much is because we know all the names. Generally, we have followed the players from college and even had an opinion about who teams should choose come draft day.

To their credit, the AAF has also addressed this issue by making an effort to place prominent players on teams near where they played their college ball to entice those regional markets and fans. For example, Aaron Murray is the quarterback for the Atlanta Legends, not far from where he made a name for himself at the University of Georgia.

After great rating and lots of coverage following the first week, it seems the AAF might be in trouble. The week two ratings are nowhere to be found and it came out in a report in The Athletic this week that the league might not be able to cover its payroll after just the first two weeks.

Thankfully for the players and degenerate gamblers out there, billionaire Tom Dundon, who owns the Carolina Hurricanes, made a $250 million investment. According to one source in The Athletic article, “Without a new, nine-figure investor, nobody is sure what would have happened.”

The NFL did allow the AAF to run promotions during the Superbowl and according to reports they may have an interest in helping the AAF become something of a developmental league, but that is hard to believe when they have the world’s most lucrative and corrupt farm system in the world already in NCAA football which costs them exactly zero dollars.

Will we see if the AAF can make it to a second season like the XFL never could? Who knows but you can tune in to get your fix this weekend as they have two more games on Saturday and two on Sunday.


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