Every fan knows the seasonal rotation of professional sports. In the fall, we watch football, in the winter and early spring, the NBA and basketball takes center stage, and when the final buzzer sounds, MLB baseball enters the scene until football again awakens from its hibernation. This pattern has persisted for longer than most of today’s high schooler’s can remember, but what happens when sports, or more specifically football, experiment with becoming a year-round spectacle?
This is the reality of 2019, as the new Alliance of American Football, or AAF, began its season over the weekend. The AAF was announced in March of 2018 by Charlie Ebersol and his staff. The league hopes to provide a football experience outside of the regular NFL season and features some major names from the NFL scene, most notably former Pittsburgh Steelers Troy Polamolu and Hines Ward, former manager Bill Polian, the NFL’s Mike Pereira, and many other household names. Often times compared to the failed XFL, the league is looking to improve the XFL’s shortcomings, namely by ditching any WWE-esk elements and try to focus on providing quality football.
The event drew in a large crowd, actually posting better ratings than the Houston Rockets-OKC Thunder game occurring at the same time. Sports fans everywhere have been sharing their opinions on the new league since its premiere on social media. Many have shared excitement over a sack from linebacker Shaan Washington of the San Antonio Commanders on San Diego Fleet quarterback Mike Bercovici during opening night. The hit blindsided Bercovici and knocked his helmet off, but to the surprise of many NFL watchers, no flags were thrown. In the NFL, this hit would most certainly have resulted in a roughing the passer penalty, and the lack of a call sent many fans to Twitter to comment on their excitement over the legality of such a huge hit. Aside from easing up on penalties, the league has made other changes including the abandonment of the kick-off, which is statistically the most dangerous (and least impactful) play during games. The AAF instead simply gives teams the ball on their own 25 yard line to begin new drives. Another change is the inclusion of a ninth official, coined the ‘sky judge’. The sky judge sits in the booth and monitors television screen for penalties. This official can also challenge penalties, an inclusion that looks to reduce the number of poor or missed calls (Saints fans, think of the now infamous no-call in the NFC Divisional Championship game).
The league features athletes from both NFL and college rosters. Names such as Trent Richardson of Alabama who rushed for two touchdowns Sunday as the starting running back for the Birmingham Iron. Other notable names include former Iowa star Akrum Wadley (Atlanta Legends) and former St. Louis Ram Chris Givens (Memphis Express). The inclusion of such talented players helps the league play football at a higher level as a whole, and thus leads to more entertaining games. While maybe not quite NFL caliber, these are still elite players who are entertaining to watch and all of whom have a chip on their shoulder.
The league seems to have gotten its foot in the door, but it remains to be seen if the AAF can maintain the ratings it posted on its opening night. Games for this weekend include the Salt Lake City Stallions visiting the Birmingham Iron on Saturday Feb. 16th at 1:00 p.m. CT. The game will be on TNT, and will be an interesting one to watch as Salt Lake looks slow down an explosive Birmingham ground attack following a close loss to Arizona. Following that also on Saturday, we have the Arizona Hotshots in Tennessee to face the Memphis Express. The game will be on the NFL network and begins at 7:00 p.m. CT. This will also be an interesting one, as the Express faced real issues getting the ball moving on over the weekend, so hopefully they will be able to get something going against a well-rounded Arizona squad.
On Sunday, Feb. 17, we have the Orlando Apollo visiting the San Antonio Commanders. This should be an explosive game and will be the match-up to watch, as both teams looked stellar offensively in their respective debuts. This game will be on the CBS Sports Network starting at 3:00 p.m. CT. Finally, we will close the weekend with a match-up between the Atlanta Legends at the San Diego Fleet. Play is set to start at 7:00 p.m. CT, and the game will be broadcast on the NFL Network. This one will be important for the Legends as they look to bounce back from a crushing defeat handed to them by Orlando. San Diego, meanwhile, will be looking to get its first win after a close loss to the Commanders. Be sure to tune in to witness potential history in the making, formulate your own opinion of the league, and—best of all—watch some football while you’re at it!