Super Bowl LIII probably didn’t leave you too excited about watching more football for a while. But that’s not going to stop the Alliance of American Football from launching their inaugural season this weekend. One of two upstart pro football leagues that sprang up in the wake of the NFL’s rating slippage and escalating PR nightmares, the AAF has set itself up to either secure a spot in the popular culture as a decent solution to the doldrums of the NFL offseason or as the first of these leagues to get shown the door when America reminds us that there is a limit to its love of football.
Thanks to all that Super Bowl hype and the impending arrival of both leagues, it stands to reason you might not be up to speed on everything you need to know before Saturday. So allow us to help you out…
— The Alliance (@TheAAF) February 3, 2019
Wait, Which Football League Is This?
The Alliance of American Football (AAF or The Alliance) is the pro football league founded by Charlie Ebersol (son of Dick) and Bill Polian (Pro Football Hall of Fame NFL executive). It’s separate from the XFL, which you probably remember from its initial run, and for its owner, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon. The AAF not only has a leg up because it’s getting started first but also because of the pedigree of those involved. Some of the other people overseeing the league include Troy Polamalu, Hines Ward, Justin Tuck, and XFL co-founder Dick Ebersol.
Take a look at the Alliance of American Football logos. Right now I'm into the San Diego Fleet and the Apollos pic.twitter.com/wfvnFKeJ7O
— Vince Quinn: Boban's Boy (@ItsVinceQuinn) February 6, 2019
Who Are The Teams?
The AAF decided to go with an eight-team setup for their first season. One way the league might have put itself in a better situation than the XFL is the way it went about picking its sites. Every team except for one is located at or south of the 35th parallel, occupying space that the NFL currently doesn’t. Some of these areas are fertile football ground thanks to strong college contingents and some are cities that used to have an NFL team or have been clamoring for one for some time.
The Eastern Conference consists of the Atlanta Legends, Birmingham Iron, Memphis Express, and the Orlando Apollos. Meanwhile, the Western Conference includes Arizona Hotshots, the Salt Lake Stallions, the San Antonio Commanders, and the San Diego Fleet. For the most part, the selections create some decent potential for regional rivalries (if things get that far).
Who Are The Coaches?
One of the big takeaways from the original XFL run was that fans lost interest quickly when they didn’t really care about any of the people involved. There’s only so much mediocre football viewers can stand without a personality to latch onto. That’s where the AAF really got smart and invested in a solid group of head coaches, almost all of whom bring name recognition and a modicum of reputation with them.
Steve Spurrier (Orlando) is the big name on the East, although former 49ers head coach Mike Singletary (Memphis) brings an NFL pedigree with him. In the West, all four coaches are well-known for their previous experience running college and football programs. They include Rick Neuheisel (Arizona), Dennis Erickson (Salt Lake), Mike Riley (San Antonio), and Mike Martz (San Diego).
Who Are The Players?
The AAF is a going to be a who’s who and “wait, I remember that guy!” Fans of just about every major college program and every NFL franchise will recognize at least some of the names. Just look at this list…
QB Trevor Knight
QB Aaron Murray, QB Matt Simms, WR Stephen Hill
QB Blake Sims, QB Scott Tolzien, RB Trent Richardson, CB JaCorey Shepherd, K Nick Novak
QB Christian Hackenberg, QB Zach Mettenberger, RB Zac Stacy, WR Chris Givens
QB Garrett Gilbert, QB Stephen Morris, WR Frankie Hammond, DB Will Hill
Salt Lake Stallions
QB B.J. Daniels, QB Garrett Grayson, RB Matt Asiata
San Antonio Commanders
QB Marquise Williams, RB David Cobb, RB Daryl Richardson
San Diego Fleet
QB Josh Johnson, RB Bishop Sankey
— Phil Savage (@PhilSavage) February 7, 2019
Are The Rules The Same?
Not entirely. Certainly, the AAF will be playing the football you know and love, but they’ve got some of their own rules meant to juice scoring and cut down on inefficiencies. They include:
- Goodbye, kickers. There will be no extra point kicks and all teams must go for two after a touchdown.
- There will be no kickoffs either. Halves and post-score drives begin on a team’s 25-yard-line.
- In keeping with the no kicking theme, there are no onside kicks but a team can keep possession of the ball by attempting a play from their own 28-yard line and gaining at least 12 yards. That sounds very random, but, there you go.
- The play clock will run for 35 seconds (the NFL’s runs for 40).
- Overtime will be played under high school football rules, a.k.a. the Kansas Playoff. Each team begins at their opponent’s 10-yard line and has one possession to score. If the teams remain tied after both attempts, the game ends in a tie.
- Coaches are allowed two challenges but cannot challenge a call in the last two minutes of either half or in overtime (challenges are automatic in those timeframes).
- There are no TV timeouts (yay!) and there are 60 percent fewer “full-screen commercials.” To make up for that lost revenue, expect to see more product placement throughout the broadcast.
— The Alliance (@TheAAF) February 4, 2019
When Does The Season Start?
This Saturday! The AAF is playing a 10-week, 40-game season that will play out mostly on Saturdays and Sundays (with a few Friday night games). The season culminates at the end of April and the top two teams in each conference will make the playoffs. The winners of those conferences advance to the championship game on Saturday, April 27th in Las Vegas.
More football. More ways to catch the action in our inaugural season. 🏈 #JoinTheAlliance
— The Alliance (@TheAAF) February 5, 2019
How Do I Watch?
The very first game in AAF history will be broadcast on CBS. Head there Saturday at 8 p.m. ET to watch the San Antonio Commanders host the San Diego Fleet in the Alamodome while the Atlanta Legends visit the Orlando Apollos at Spectrum Stadium. Coverage will likely shift back and forth between the two games throughout the broadcast.
If you like what you see, tune in Sunday to CBS Sports Network at 4 p.m. ET to watch the Memphis Express battle the Birmingham Iron at Legion Field. Then head to NFL Network to watch the Salt Lake Stallions take on the Arizona Hotshots in Sun Devil Stadium at 8 p.m. ET.
As for all the ways you can watch AAF games all season long:
- CBSSN and NFLN will be the home of the AAF for the rest of the season (full schedule here).
- NFL Network has agreed to broadcast 19 games across the entire season, while CBS Sports Network will air one AAF game per week.
- Also, TNT and B/R Live will broadcast one AAF regular season and one playoff game. Meanwhile, one regular season game every week will be streamed via B/R Live.
- Every AAF game will also be streamed on the CBS All Access app, which will cost you $5.99/month for streaming with ads or $9.99/month without.
Should I Get Invested In This Or What?
So here’s the thing. Starting a brand new professional sports league is a curious endeavor in the best of times. Based on history, your ceiling is that you will eventually merge with or get swallowed up by the traditional league in your space (AFL, ABA, WHA). But the odds say that you’re probably doomed (USFL, WFL, XFL 1.0). The middle option is that you set yourself up as a realistic option as a feeder league for the more prominent pro league. Think the CBA before the G-League came around or NFL Europe.
That last option feels like the most likely scenario for success for a league like this. What we do know is that there’s no way both the AAF and XFL will be successful, at least in the traditional sense. One of three things is probably going to happen. First, they could both fold. Second, they could merge and pool their resources. Third, one of them will establish inroads as the NFL’s preferred “farm system” and the other one will fail because no one cares.
So perhaps it might be worth checking out, if for no other reason than curiosity. And if you’re really jonesing for some football, at least you’ve got an interesting option now between February and April.