As the Milwaukee Bucks were crafting a rare clunker Saturday night, my itchy-twitchy fingers seized the remote and started a vigorous channel-surf that landed me on the shores of an uncharted land.
The Alliance of American Football.
The prime time debut games supposedly drew better numbers than an NBA clash pitting the Thunder against the Rockets. If I recall, that's what happened when the XFL premiered in 2001, and we all know how that ended. Opening weekend success flamed out amid technical snafus and other miscues that it needs to have worked out when the one-and-done league stars anew in 2020.
I lingered for a while to check out the attendance ( a lower deck in San Antonio's Alamodome with lots of fans and an upper bowl covered in tarp), the quality of play (spotty, especially the passing games) and the production values (everyone seems to be miked up, including the replay judge so you can see AND hear the process as it plays out). Then I hit the Googles to learn up.
The AAF features eight teams playing a ten-game schedule. It's not out to dethrone the NFL but rather cash in on our insatiable appetite for pigskin. It also sports some new rules that football folks think will find their way into The Shied's books–no kickoffs (drives start at your own 25 yard line) and no extra points (you HAVE to go for a 2 point conversion after each touchdown). There are no TV time outs and the breaks they have are shorter, meaning a faster-moving game that won't devour three or more hours of your life. No field goals in overtime. Oh, and there's a “sky judge” who'll watch player safety issues AND be able to call pass interference in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter. Why only then and there, who knows, but it's a start.
One other twist: the onside conversion which allows a team trailing by 17 points or more to try to convert a 4th and 12 from its own 28 yard line (both teams can try it in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter). The possibilities are fascinating to the open-minded and probably a deal-breaker to the hard-core fan who bemoans the invention of the face mask.
Rosters are flecked with former NFL players (Packers alumni Scott Tolzien, Jayrone Elliot and Carl Bradford are among several who once played in Green Bay who are now getting AAF paychecks) and the sideline staffed with coaches whose names you'll recognize–Steve Spurrier and Mike Singletary among them.
The AAF is filling a perceived hole in the TV sports landscape, one that for some can only be filled with more football. That snoozer of a Super Bowl the Sunday before came after a fairly lackluster NFL post-season, one that only accelerated the nation's Patriots-fatigue and skepticism as to how the game is officiated (what IS a catch, anyway?). The AAF probably won't have folks changing their Sunday routines but at a time when more channels need more content and the U-S can't seem to kick its collective gridiron addiction, there just may be a niche for a new league, one that may give The Shield a place to test drive innovations and changes it may be reluctant to implement cold-turkey.