The Alliance of American Football is now two weeks old. The brand-new league has done relatively well so far. It outperformed the NBA on ABC last weekend, dominated Twitter, and has gotten fans thinking about what minor league football could look like. If nothing else, the AAF has certainly proven that there is demand for more legitimate, NFL-style professional football. That said, the AAF has a long way to go to maintain its current relevance.
There is a decent chance that the AAF wave swept us up while we were combating our post-Super Bowl haze. We were vulnerable and they took advantage of it, which I guess they kinda had to do to make a league like this work. But as we creep closer to March Madness, the league’s popularity will shift. I mean, how long will we really care about a league who’s biggest star is Trent Richardson and his two yards per carry?
The AAF isn’t as good as the NFL and isn’t as chaotic as the NCAA. So, it needs to operate as an in-between niche. There is real need for an NFL-linked developmental league. The brutal nature of football means that teams are always going to have to replace guys. Having an established feeder league is great for players, teams, and fans.
None of this matters if the games suck because fans want exciting football and good storylines. We need to have a reason to care. Steve Spurrier coaching the Orlando Apollos is the right idea, but that’s only one team. Infusing the league with elements from its NFL counterpart is the best way to keep the AAF alive..
Below are a few ideas that could give the young league staying power. They range from player pool to presentation.
Idea No. 1: Loan NFL Backup Quarterbacks
Every NFL team has at least one backup QB. Most of them never play. Why not loan them in the off-season to the AAF? If the AAF were able to secure NFL talent at the QB position, both the quality of play and entertainment value would skyrocket. Everyone would benefit from this. Coaches get to see how their backups develop, backups get a chance to prove they should start, and fans get to watch players they know lead teams they don’t.
Now, there are many backups that are either too old to be developed or too valuable to have injury risked. That’s fine, make it an opt-in system. If a backup feels he should start, let him play in the AAF. If he wants the offseason, let him rest. Not wanting to play extra football should say enough to coaches. If there’re too many backups opting in, then let the AAF teams choose which signal callers they want. If the backups struggle, then there is still room for AAF guys like Luis Perez. The logistics of making this work would be interesting, but it certainly is worth a shot.
Some of the notable backups that could be eligible/entertaining: Teddy Bridgewater, Robert Griffin III, Nathan Peterman, Josh Dobbs, Deshone Kizer, AJ McCarron, Cardale Jones, Brock Osweiler, Mason Rudolph, Geno Smith, Davis Webb, Joe Webb, Brandon Weeden, J.T. Barrett, Johnny Manziel (obviously not in the NFL, but still).
Idea No. 1.5: Loan NFL Assistants
Following similar logic, quality of play will increase if quality of coaching is improved. If the goal of the AAF is to provide a pathway to the NFL, it should have NFL-caliber coaches. Get Mike Singletary out of there. Let these young coaches cut their teeth in the AAF. It would lead to an interesting brand of football as everyone would be trying to stick out. Also, given the AAF’s minor league status, coaches would be able to experiment without as much pressure/risk.
It’d also give teams a better idea of who they’re hiring if they have AAF pedigree. They’d see how these young coaches adjust to leading a team. Like the backups, assistants would have a chance to prove themselves to the football world. Better coaching means better football.
Idea No. 2: Weekday Games
This has been mentioned before and would definitely make the league more intriguing. Broadcasting games somewhere between Monday and Friday is perfect for a developing league. Make it a bar sport. Football after work has been a slam dunk for the NFL, the AAF should follow suit. People will welcome a break from basketball and hockey for at least one of those nights during the week. Have the Iron and Apollos play Wednesday Night Football on CBS and then sprinkle games in during the weekend to fill those time slots as well.
Idea No. 3: Overhaul the CBS Broadcast
The best thing CBS ever did was replacing Phil Simms with Tony Romo. Now, the broadcasts are engaging and entertaining. Copy that model and let announcers run free in the AAF. A common theme throughout these ideas, advertise it as a way to prove yourself for the NFL. Look to the NBA on TNT for how they’ve incorporated former players. Announcing is going the way of fun yet analytical. That’s a good thing. Hire back Gus Johnson from Fox. Make him the voice of the AAF. The NFL has a ton of football guys holed up in their reserve. They have already inked some like Maurice Jones-Drew and Marvin Lewis. People like Jeff Fisher, Rex Ryan, or Deion Sanders all could be convinced. Or, swing for the fences, and go for the likes of Pat McAfee, Peyton Manning, or Urban Meyer. Investing in talent is worth it for a league like the AAF.
CBS should also continue to experiment with the actual presentation. In this week’s Iron game they used the top down camera on a play that resulted in a fumble. The angle gave fans a perfect look, in real speed. Don’t go overboard, but put cameras and mics in weird places. Use things like the pylon cam as much as possible. They’ve already shown a willingness to mic up the replay official, why not extend that to all officials? Supplement the announcing with as much visual intrigue as possible.
If they make some of these changes, it would go a long way to making the league more watchable. Adding NFL consequence will get people to care. Treat the AAF as an experimental playground to strengthen the Shield. There is so much potential here, they just need to iron out the details.