Currently, there are a total of eight pro football leagues in existence in North America, including the NFL. Out of these, five are indoor entities. Plus, the XFL has already declared it will re-boot in 2020 and will be added to this list.
Add another league to that inventory with the announcement of the “Alliance of American Football” (AAF) to begin play one year ahead of the XFL in the spring of 2019.
This new league will be comprised of eight teams with 50-man rosters amongst a 10-week season followed by a four-team playoff. Former NFL players, recently cut NFL and CFL players, star indoor players plus other free-agents are the initial target group for rosters. However, just as the XFL model, all teams will be owned by a core investment group.
Part of the planning process of this new league does not include becoming a developmental league or a farm system for the NFL, but at this time will not target existing NFL players. They insist that the term “semi-pro” will not pertain to their league.
The AAF is the brainchild of movie/TV producer Charlie Ebersol and former NFL GM and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian. So far the planning stages are two years in the making with the intent to continue the game of professional football onward into the spring until the NFL season resumes play similar to the USFL format from 1983-1985.
The player side of the league will be handled by former Pittsburgh Steeler Troy Polamalu while the franchise front will be the responsibility of former USC executive J.K. McKay. League advisors include former Giant Justin Tuck and fellow Steeler Hines Ward.
To date, investors include former Viking great Jared Allen, Barstool Sports, Founders Fund, M Ventures, Chernin Group, Slow Ventures. Adrian Fenty, Keith Rabois, and several other Silicon Valley companies not disclosed. As proved by other pro football leagues that failed, this entity cites long-term financial resources are in place to ensure a steady footing. The lack of team owners is also part of the plan in order to eliminate franchise relocations and league infighting.
CBS Sports has signed on to broadcast games. Under the TV agreement, CBS will begin airing weekly games on February 9, 2019, with league games broadcast on CBS Sports Network along with the championship contest the weekend of April 26-28. At the same time, a free app will be available to stream live games along with integrated fantasy football that will offer weekly prizes to fans.
The website aaf.com will announce the host cities along with coaching hires in the upcoming months. Tuck’s photo and bio are listed prominently under the list of league executives.
It is assumed that warmer climate cities or areas that possess domed stadiums will become the focus since the bulk of the season will be in February and March. Birmingham, Memphis and Orlando have all had excellent attendance history in former leagues, while St. Louis has a domed stadium and a former fanbase. In addition, San Diego is currently without a club while Oakland will soon be devoid of their Raiders. San Antonio also fits the league’s requirements and has had several former pro football teams call their city home. Unlike all the other pro football leagues before them, it is most likely this league would steer clear of cities with existing NFL clubs thus eliminating the competition of stadium leases, sponsors, media coverage and fans.
Teams will also be initially formed using a regional draft format in order to attract a natural fanbase. For example, if Orlando did indeed host a club, QB Tim Tebow would be drafted for that team alone.
Ebersol produced the documentary on ESPN’s “30 for 30” about the lifespan of the XFL of 2001 which his father Dick Ebersol co-founded. The younger Ebersol also produces the hit reality show “The Profit.”
League rules that differ from the NFL include the elimination of kickoffs and PATs, two replay challenges per game, 40-second play clock, 2 ½ hour game duration, two-point conversion attempts after every TD, player bonuses structured around victories, fan engagement and statistical achievements, the elimination of the three-point stance, and post-career education/planning for every player. Instead of the kickoff, each team will begin play from their own 25-yard line.
One odd rule will be centered as the result of the elimination of the kickoff. By doing so, this also signifies the removal of the onside kick. To offset this standard football feature, the trailing team will have the option to take possession of the ball on their own 35-yard line with a fourth down and 10. If a first down is achieved, the game continues on with the trailing team in control. If the attempt fails, the game will also resume with a change of possession.
The AAF is counting on a fan base that will want to continue watching and attending American football games long after the Super Bowl has concluded. Player safety, family-friendly atmosphere and ticket pricing, plus more fan involvement could make this a viable league for many years to come.
And perhaps Charlie Ebersol won’t have to produce another failed pro football league documentary on his own creation.
Barry Shuck is a pro football historical writer and a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association