What is the AAF and what does it mean for the future of football?


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Former NFL executive and co-founder of the AAF, Bill Polian speaking at a press conference.

The Super Bowl. What is usually the last day of professional football in America was not the case this time around. After a painful 13-3 finale of the NFL season, sports fans were prepared for college basketball and baseball to pick up; however, this was not the issue. Coming out of nowhere was the Alliance of American Football (AAF). February 9 was the inaugural game of the AAF, a new professional football league that gained attention after a marketing strategy that flew under the radar from its creation in the spring of 2018. Similar to other popular football leagues such as the AFL (Arena Football League), and the CFL (Canadian Football League), the AAF has a unique approach to the traditional game of football. Rather than being played on a shorter field or with different false start rules, the AAF eliminates all roughing penalties from the traditional NFL rulebook. What this basically stands for is the players are allowed to hit people when they want, and where they want, without getting penalized. This was on full display in the first AAF game between the San Diego Fleet and the San Antonio Commanders, when Commanders linebacker Shaan Washington absolutely wrecked Fleet’s quarterback Mike Bercovici early in the game. What would have been no doubt an unnecessary roughness in the NFL, went down as a sack/forced fumble for the Commanders, sending shockwaves through social media, and quickly making people question “what is the AAF?”

In December of 2017, after his completion of the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “This Was the XFL”, filmmaker Charlie Ebersol began to develop the idea of the AAF after studying the failure of the short lived football league the XFL (Xtreme Football League). In Developing the AAF, Ebersol wanted to avoid the disappointment he and his father faced when watching the XFL back in 2001. He hired former NFL general manager Bill Polian, former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, and executive J.K. McKay to bring experience and knowledge of the game. He also included advisers such as former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, and former New York Giants and Oakland Raiders defensive end Justin Tuck to help out as well. After announcing the foundation of the league in March of 2018, Ebersol expanded the league into eight franchises, four teams in each conference. Teams include the Arizona Hotshots, Atlanta Legends, Birmingham Iron, Memphis Express, Orlando Apollos, Salt Lake Stallions, San Antonio Commanders and San Diego Fleet. Each team plays ten regular season games, and the top two teams teams from each conference play each other in the postseason to meet up in the championship game (which will be hosted this year in Las Vegas in late April/early May).

So far several teams in the AAF have yielded former NFL and NCAA coaches and players, many whom are looking to make a return to the NFL. Players such as Christian Hackenberg, and Trent Richardson who shared limited success in the NFL look to flourish in their starting roles in the AAF. Coaches such as Mike Singletary, Steve Spurrier and Mike Martz (former Super Bowl Champion assistant coach), look to make a return to the coaching game after being retired/fired previously. Trying to avoid a downfall similar to the XFL, the AAF strives for “high-quality professional football fueled by a dynamic Alliance between players, fans and the game” (AAF).

While the future of the AAF is uncertain, the popularity of the league is quickly growing in the sports world. With intriguing new rules such as a sky judge, no PATs, and an eliminated kick off, the AAF could pan out as a minor party influence for the NFL, or perhaps could pan out to equal it’s success. With millions of NFL fans complaining about the “softness” of the game, the AAF could turn out as a relief to the frustrations of the NFL. Hard hitting, celebrations, fan interactions and local talented players could make for great entertainment.