The Sideline Observer

Sports and Culture Commentary

A New League In Town: The Birth of the AAF

Whenever football season ends, there is a void in my life. I am a passionate fan of all sports, but football has always been my favorite by far. I spend every Saturday and Sunday glued to my TV watching games and I even played in high school (shoutout to all my long snappers). While there are leagues like the CFL and Arena football, none of them really compare to the excitement of NFL or college football. Luckily, a new league has finally figured out how to produce a game that satisfies my football craving.

The Alliance of American Football kicked off its inaugural season this past weekend and it’s safe to say it’s already looking like a huge success. There were two games being shown on CBS Saturday, Feb. 9 that were competing with the Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder game on ABC for viewers.

Guess what? The AAF beat out the NBA in ratings. On its first night in existence, the AAF is attracting more viewers than one of the most competitive leagues on Earth. Now that may have to do with the fact that the NBA game was a meaningless regular season matchup in a season that already has so much drama. However, I think surpassing the NBA’s ratings was a loud statement. It’s reflective of this country’s love for football and the fact that the AAF is actually able to put a genuinely captivating product on the field.

Other football leagues don’t have the same feel as college football or the NFL. They almost seem like a completely different sport, but the AAF is staying true to the pillars of the game. Some might even be tempted to say that the AAF allows for more excitement than the NFL does. There were several bone crushing hits this weekend that would have surely been a penalty in the NFL, but in this new startup league it appears that these hits are perfectly legal, at least for the time being.

There are other rules the AAF is experimenting with that we may see in the NFL one day. In response to safety risks, the NFL has drastically reduced the impact of kickoffs and has flirted with the idea of getting rid of them altogether. The AAF decided to go ahead and eliminate the play completely. In the new league, each team starts a possession at their 25 yard line. There are also no extra points as teams are now forced to go for two after every touchdown. These new rules add an exciting new element to the game, unless you’re a kicker in which case you’re shit out of luck.

But if there’s one thing that really makes this new league a must-watch, it is the amount of talent and big names that have decided to give it a shot. Legendary NFL and college coach Steve Spurrier came out of retirement to become the head coach of the Orlando Apollos. Numerous former NFL players are also entering the league in hopes of resurrecting their failed careers. Busts such as Trent Richardson and Christian Hackenberg are hoping the AAF will be a stepping stone to make it back to the NFL.

Since this league has a style of play very similar to the NFL, these guys may actually have a legitimate chance. Having all these players hungry for NFL chances also adds more excitement to the actual game itself. Many of these players see this as their last shot to make it and you can bet your ass they will be leaving it all out on the field.

The ultimate goal for this league is to serve as a developmental league for the NFL, similar to the minor leagues in baseball or the G-League in basketball. After NFL Europe shut down ten years ago, the league has been desperate for a farm system to groom players who may not be ready or who maybe flamed out early in their careers. It also allows these players to improve their skills year round. During the offseason, although there is a ton of training and skills work, players don’t ever get the opportunity to play actual football. Having the opportunity to actually put the pads on and play some games could be extremely beneficial to player development.

This league has the potential to be huge. Starting the season a week after the Super Bowl is a genius idea that capitalizes on football fans craving for the sport immediately after the “real” season concludes. As ratings have shown, people are interested and willing to tune in to this league.

They also have placed teams in cities that don’t have professional football teams such as Orlando and Birmingham. Take it from someone who lives in Alabama, football is part of the fabric of life here and adding an AAF team gives the people of this state a chance to enjoy an actual pro sports team. If this league can merge with the NFL as a developmental league it could drastically increase the popularity of pro football in places where college ball reigns supreme.

Obviously it’s too early to declare the league a success. Despite a successful first weekend, things could easily take a tailspin and the league could flame out like so many others have. However, if any league can actually thrive as a substitute for the NFL, this is it. The talent, excitement, and execution all appear to be in place to make the AAF the next big thing. If the AAF succeeds, it will revolutionize professional football as we know it.

-Jake Hornyak

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