New League on the Block

The first Sunday after the Super Bowl is always the hardest. That is the day football fans everywhere realize they will have to wait six long months for kickoff. Thankfully, there’s a new league looking to satisfy our appetites. If you can’t wait until August for your NFL fill, then say hello to the Alliance of American Football (AAF).

The league is comprised of eight teams with all but two franchises existing in markets untapped by the NFL. These teams will play a 10-week season that culminates in a championship game in April. In order to foster high-quality action for players and fans alike, every team’s head coach has experience at both the collegiate and professional levels of football.

The AAF was founded in March 2018 by filmmaker Charlie Ebersol and former NFL general manager Bill Polian. Ebersol was inspired to create the league in late 2016 after covering the ill-fated XFL, a football league created by Vince McMahon and NBC to capitalize on the success of football and professional wrestling, for ESPN’S “30 for 30” film series. Ebersol wanted to make certain that the league was in good hands. As a result, AAF operations are being overseen by Polian, former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver J.K. McKay.

Unlike other spring leagues such as the United States Football League and the United Football League which tried and failed to compete with the NFL, the AAF wants to work in tandem with the juggernaut, with Polamalu describing the league to USA TODAY as “complementary.” The AAF’s primary goal is to give the NFL extra talent to scout. The league also wants to showcase the talents of players who narrowly missed out on a career in the NFL.

Prospective NFL players are limited to showcasing their skills during training camps and preseason games. This short time frame causes most players to get cut before ever stepping onto the field. McKay believes that a player’s true athletic ability can only be determined by having them compete in actual games which is where the AAF comes into play. McKay declared that the future for the league is bright as the AAF looks to sign more talent in September when NFL teams cut their rosters down to fifty-three players.

To help establish team fan bases and focus on building local talent, the AAF will draft players depending on which team is closest to their college’s city.

To set itself apart, the AAF has adopted its own set of rules. There are no kickoffs as the ball will always be spotted at the 25-yard line. Instead of kicking an extra point, teams will have to go for a mandatory two-point conversion. Onside kicks are replaced with 4th-and-12 conversions and blitzes are limited. Interestingly enough, the AAF has also adopted a “sky judge,” a ninth referee up in the booth who can correct missed calls in real time.  

Despite being in its infancy, the AAF has had a strong couple of weeks. The league debuted on CBS on Saturday, Feb. 9, six days after Super Bowl LIII. Depending on the region, viewers were treated to the San Antonio Commandeers hosting the San Diego Fleet or the Atlanta Legends battling the Orlando Apollos. Together, these games combined for a 2.9 Nielsen rating, beating out ABC’s primetime NBA telecast of the Houston Rockets hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Throughout the past three weeks, public interest in the league has remained solid. Viewership in the second week ranged from 400,000 viewers on TNT to over a million on the NFL Network. Though these numbers might not be grand, they are impressive for a league in its early stages of development.

If the AAF remains consistent with its success, the league could become a true developmental pipeline for the NFL. The AAF might also win over the masses by playing David Glen Eisley’s “Sweet Victory” — which most famously appeared in a “SpongeBob SquarePants” episode, and which was very nearly played at Super Bowl LIII — at the championship halftime show.

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