(Spoiler alert: The results are in from the “big” game. However, they, along with a game highlights video, are at the end of the story…)
You thought football was done for a while what with the Super Bowl and all last week.
You were wrong.
Get set for something called the Alliance of American Football, an eight-team league that kicks off (but without kickoffs, those have been eliminated in the AAF) on Saturday and goes through the championship game in Las Vegas on April 27.
The AAF debuts Saturday night on CBS, just one week after CBS brought the world –outside New Orleans and Kansas City — Super Bowl LII.
The AAF even features a local entity, the San Diego Fleet, hitting the road against the San Antonio Commanders. That starts 5:30 p.m. on KFMB, Channel 8. Other markets will see the Atlanta Legends at Orlando Apollos.
AAF, you say
Aside from Atlanta, the new league features the seven largest markets without NFL football in the U.S.
Charlie Ebersol, son of longtime NBC Sports executive Dick Ebersol, and Hall of Fame general manager Bill Polian. founded the league. Aside from Saturday’s teams, the Memphis Express play at the Birmingham Iron, and the Salt Lake Stallions play at the Arizona Hotshots on Sunday.
It’s not quite the NFL, and it’s not quite college football, either. It’s being billed as a developmental league that is trying to be an augmentation to the NFL season, according to Polian.
With a 10-game regular-season schedule, the inaugural campaign will culminate in an April 27 championship game. Generally, games will be broadcast on CBS, TNT and the NFL Network. A few games will be live-streamed on B-R Live.
A few players will be recognizable to football fans.
— The Alliance (@TheAAF) August 29, 2018
Trent Richardson, for example, according to Yahoo Sports. Richardson, the third pick of the 2012 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns who was later traded to the Indianapolis Colts, is still trying to get back in the NFL after failing his first time around. Richardson is with Birmingham, where people will fondly remember him from his Alabama days.
There are a few quarterbacks whose names should be somewhat familiar: Trevor Knight (Arizona), Aaron Murray (Atlanta), Zach Mettenberger (Memphis), Christian Hackenberg (Memphis), Garrett Gilbert (Orlando) and Mike Bercovici (San Diego).
Among the non-quarterbacks you might know, from college stardom or flaming out as high NFL draft picks: receiver Josh Huff (Arizona), linebacker Scooby Wright (Arizona), safety Rahim Moore (Arizona), kicker Nick Folk (Arizona), running back Denard Robinson (Atlanta), kicker Younghoe Koo (Atlanta), kicker Nick Novak (Birmingham), running back Zac Stacy (Memphis), running back Matt Asiata (Salt Lake), receiver Greg Ward (San Antonio), tight end Gavin Escobar (San Diego), defensive end Damontre Moore (San Diego).
Players all signed three-year, $250,000 contracts. Every player is on the same deal. If they finish a year in the league, they’ll also get a stipend for secondary education. There’s also an internship program. Contracts also have bonuses tied into them depending on hitting both on- and off-field incentives.
Coaching and rules
AAF coaches are football household names.
San Diego fans will recognize Mike Riley although he’ll be coaching San Antonio. Mike Martz, led the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl, will coach San Diego.
Hall of Fame player and coach Mike Singletary coaches Memphis. Dennis Erickson coaches Salt Lake. Rick Neuheisel is with Arizona and Steve Spurrier returns to coaching with Orlando.
The AAF is implementing some new rules, according to Yahoo Sports, and the one that seems most likely to catch on with the NFL is its “sky judge.” The ninth official on the crew will be in the press box and can correct “obvious and egregious” officiating errors, including pass interference in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter. Insert your New Orleans Saints joke here.
Some other rules:
• No kickoffs. Teams will start at their own 25. That’s a nod to player safety and the NFL might watch that closely.
• A 35-second play clock, five seconds shorter than the NFL.
• No TV timeouts and fewer commercials as the AAF tries to get its games done in two hours and 30 minutes, a half-hour quicker than NFL games, according to its site.
• One overtime period. Each team gets the ball for a first-and-goal at the 10-yard line. No field goals and teams must go for two after touchdowns. The game can end in a tie after the overtime period.
• No onside kicks, but “onside conversions.” According to the AAF’s site, if a team is trailing by 17 or more in the final five minutes, they must convert a fourth-and-12 from their own 28 to keep the ball.
• Defenses can’t rush more than five players on pass plays.
Interactivity and gaming
MGM is the “gaming partner” of the AAF — and the thought is there will be a plethora of options both on the app and through the gaming partner to make the game more interactive, according to ESPN. Charlie Ebersol, the other co-founder, explained the league has been building technology to give real-time data from hardware they’ve developed that will allow for actual real-time updates and gaming possibilities.
“In regular fantasy, you’re the team owner. In daily fantasy, you are the general manager. We believe in the game we have, you’re the coach,” Ebersol said. “So think of it like, instead of a fantasy manager, you’re a fantasy coach. So you’re going play to play, and you’re looking at the predictability of what play is going to happen and which players are going to be involved and what the odds of those plays happening are. That’s more of what our game is.”
That data, Ebersol hopes, also will give more of an objective view of how players are performing. Every player and every ball used in a game will have microchips embedded to accumulate and transmit data.
Meet the Fleet
Pre-season, the San Diego Fleet are not expected to be at the top of the AAF heap. Oddsmakers have them at 10-1 to win the league championship, tied with several other teams at the longest odds.
San Diego Fleet at San Antonio Commanders (-5), O/U 43.5
Word is that San Antonio might have the best offense in the alliance. But, again, how much of that shows up in Week 1? No one is reinventing the wheel, but bringing teams together and introducing some new terminology in this amount of time could slow things down. San Diego linebacker A.J. Tarpley has been getting some buzz out of camp. He could be a problem. Ultimately, though, I haven’t gotten the impression San Diego has found a quality replacement at quarterback for Josh Johnson, who was picked up by Washington.
Pick: San Antonio -5, Under 43.5.
San Antonio’s latest attempt at spring football drew 27,857 fans to the Alamodome on Saturday night, as the Alliance of American Football’s Commanders christened the new league with a 15-6 win over the San Diego Fleet.
San Antonio native and Madison grad Aaron Green led the Commanders with 43 rushing yards on six carries. Mekale McKay made five catches for 80 yards, Alonzo Moore had three catches for 78 yards, and Greg Ward had five catches for 65 yards.
Despite a rule limiting defenses to five pass rushers, both quarterbacks were regularly pressured, preventing either offense from consistently moving the ball.
The Commanders’ defense had six sacks, including two by linebacker Shaan Washington, and hauled in three interceptions. San Diego was limited to 295 total yards, while San Antonio had 364.