The new NFL offseason turned seven days old this week, but diehard football fans may have a new option to fill their football fix over the coming months that they did not have in the past.
The American Alliance of Football (AAF) debuted on Saturday evening with a pair of matchups that drew in over three million viewers, more than the primetime NBA games received in the same time slot. The league's purpose is to compliment the NFL during the offseason but also offers a home for local and developing talent as they try to climb their way up the ranks.
The league was cofounded by longtime NFL Executive Bill Polian and features a number of former stars in coaching positions. Some of the assistant coaches you will find on the sidelines during an AAF matchup include Troy Polamalu, Hines Ward and Jared Allen. It has also attracted players who may not quite have what it takes to cut it at the game’s highest level. Notable college stars involved in the league include, but are not limited to, Denard Robinson and Christian Hackenberg.
On top of another opportunity for players and coaches to attempt to get experience or perhaps resurrect their careers, the AAF will also be a perfect sample for the NFL to keep tabs on and evaluate possible rule changes for their own game in the future.
The most notable difference in the new league is the lack of kicking. As there are no kickoffs, each team will start with the ball at their own 25-yard line, a route that many surrounding the NFL have discussed as a future possibility. There are also no extra points. All touchdowns will be followed by two-point conversion attempts. Traditional field goal attempts are allowed.
Since there are not kickoffs, there obviously cannot be onside kicks. However, if a team trails by 17 or more points or there are less than five minutes remaining in the game, they can attempt to earn another possession by converting one fourth-and-12 play from their own 28-yard line. This is certainly interesting and a creative way to solve the problem of regaining possession without kickoffs. Not to mention, it is easier. An NFL team hardly ever converts an onside kick with the new rules that ban running starts, so a fourth-and-long prayer is much more likely than a lucky bounce.
Like the NFL, the games can indeed end in a tie. In fact, they are more likely to do so. Each team gets one possession in overtime starting at their opponent’s 10-yard line (no field goals are allowed in OT). If each offense finishes their OT attempt with the same result (touchdown with a successful two-point conversion, touchdown without a successful two or failure to score altogether), the game will end in a tie.
This makes for an extremely exciting finish to the game, but I do not see why they cannot go back-and-forth in overtime until a winner is declared, much like they do at the college level. It certainly would not be a time issue as AAF games move much faster than those at the college level or the NFL. There are currently no television timeouts and the play-clock lasts 35 seconds instead of 40.
The officiating is also quite different. Fans will have the opportunity to listen in on their discussions in between plays and there are nine referees in total. This includes what is called the “SkyJudge”, who sits in the press box and has the power to correct errors during the game, including pass-interference in the last five minutes. Every Saints fan in the world would love to see this in the NFL.
For now, the league consists of just eight teams in two conferences and two games will be played each Saturday and Sunday of the 10-week regular season. The top two teams from each conference will advance to the postseason and compete in a four-team playoff format.
Seven of the eight cities that now host an AAF franchise do not have an NFL team, Atlanta being the lone exception. The following teams make up the new football league that has garnered much excitement in the early stages: Arizona Hotshots, Orlando Apollos, San Antonio Commanders, Salt Lake Stallions, Atlanta Legends, Birmingham Iron, San Diego Fleet and Memphis Express.
Orlando, San Antonio, Birmingham and Arizona all picked up wins on Saturday or Sunday to begin the new season.