There are some things that get tried over and over again in the hope that they will work. One of these ideas is another league of professional football in the United States aside from the National Football League. And it is easy to see why this idea is perennial. The NFL has a short season of only sixteen games, with playoffs that are quick as well, leaving a lot of the year that is without football or any compelling sports. Right now, after the Super Bowl, one has regular season hockey and basketball for a couple of months before baseball starts up, which isn’t very compelling television to watch. College basketball is pretty exciting in March and early April, but that still leaves plenty of room for more sports. Done correctly, there would appear to be a good market for football in this time of the year, although it hasn’t really worked out that way.
It’s not for lack of trying. Since the last successful non-NFL football league ended with the NFL-AFL merger, there have been numerous attempts to supplement or compete with the NFL. There was the USFL in the 1980’s, the XFL in the 1990’s, a failed southward expansion of the CFL, a league called the UFL, as well as the implosion of the Arena Football League after it had expanded to two divisions. When one adds to this the failure of NFL Europe despite its best efforts, and it is clear that an expansion of American football has been frequently tried in various forms and it has not worked out well for one reason or another. And yet the logic of the situation and the scheduling would suggest that there is at least some room for a football league that would be viable on a smaller level that would provide enough compelling spots for people to play football before an appreciative audience.
So, this past weekend the Alliance of American Football started with eight franchises, most of them in areas without an NFL team: San Diego, Alabama, San Antonio, Salt Lake City, and Memphis Orlando among them, and Atlanta and Arizona the only areas where there is an NFL team at present. Two games were played on Saturday night, and two of them on Sunday, and I happened to watch both of the games on Sunday. As far as the first week of gameplay went, it was clear that there were some rough spots that need to be worked out. Defense coaches have shown the tendency to blitz too many people and give up fifteen yards on illegal procedure. Offensive lines and wide receiver play is not good but defensive backs and quarterbacks are dealing out some fire. Here’s hoping that wide receivers and running backs can do better as the weeks go on and teams are able to develop a good sense of cohesion. Those few teams that were able to get their offense going–Orlando, Alabama, and Arizona among them, clubbed their opponents like baby seals, and that was appealing to watch, I must admit.
Where I think the AAF has the biggest potential is in serving as a developmental league for the NFL and a chance for players who are practice squad or reserve quality to showcase their talent. Unlike many leagues that have tried to compete with the NFL and have failed, the AAF has network deals with CBS and the NFL Network out of the gate, a development staff that is full of NFL veterans, and about 80% of its players with some NFL experience, and even the chance to improve the coaching trees of NFL teams by including a female WR coach, for example, for the powerful Arizona team. With some support by the NFL and an enjoyable product, this league has the chance of survival if it can get enough viewers to pay for its $75k annual salaries for players, which is hardly breaking the bank. I think the league has a chance, and as long as they play I certainly plan on checking them out, at least for now.