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Sunday, February 10, 2019

An Impressive Arrival: Alliance of American Football

By Steven Weldon

With one crack of a helmet to the turf, the Alliance of American Football, or AAF, had arrived. Within moments, a huge hit that would ideally be called a flag in the NFL, spread through every social media application possible. What is this? The Super Bowl was last weekend, why is there still football?

The demand has always existed for more football. Thousands travel to spring intra-squad scrimmages at colleges around the country, just to get that fall feeling again. Millions attend NFL training camps; so much so that a television series covers one NFL team every preseason. All of these events came into existence to whet the fans' insatiable appetite for big hits, insane plays, and sweet juke moves.

That won't end any time soon.

The AAF enters with eight teams, six with no NFL team, but large enough markets to support other professional leagues. Only Atlanta and Arizona are located in cities with NFL franchises in the metro area, and the Birmingham Iron is the first professional football team in that city since the XFL in 2001.

The talent and coaching level, at first glance of week one, is there. 81% of the players in the league signed an NFL contract at some point in their career. Three teams allowed less than eight points with their defenses making big plays, and four teams scored over 20 points. The star of the first weekend was former Wake Forest quarterback John Wolford, now of the Arizona Hotshots. His four touchdown, 275-yard day was the most prolific performance football fans have witnessed since January. The league's head coaches include big names such as Mike Martz, Dennis Erickson and Steve Spurrier. Even Michael Vick has a job as an offensive coordinator.

The league also created some reasonable innovations. Play starts at the 25-yard line, no kickoffs of any kind. Even the onside kick was eliminated in favor of a 4th-and-12 rule. There are no extra point attempts; only two-point conversions. Also, to speed up the game, there are no TV timeouts. When there is a short stoppage in play, the station covering the game goes split screen with an ad on one side. Play resumes shortly after. Watching the Salt Lake Stallions take on the Arizona Hotshots start to finish only took about two and a half hours.

One of the most important aspects was the most integral to those who don't live in the immediate area of all eight teams. Luckily, the founders of the league are well-versed in the media business. Charlie Ebersol, son of NBC executive Dick Ebersol, founded the league with former NFL players. The league then signed a deal with CBS as well as NFL Network and Bleacher Report Live. Every single game will be televised on one of five channels that are accessible via cable or the internet.

The AAF has a solid foundation. It has good, solid football. It's very watchable. Let's see how far they can take it.

Watch the AAF on Saturdays and Sundays from February 9th until April 27th on CBS Sports Network, NFL Network, and Bleacher Report Live.

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