Welcome once again, Ladies and Gentlemen, to our great website spectacular. Signing day is over, that thing in that other league happened and we all had a parade instead, and now the vast abyss of the offseason lies before us. How are we to bridge this vast chasm between now and August 24th, when Arizona travels to Hawaii in Week Zero?
I’LL TELL YOU HOW! BY SPANNING THE GLOBE TO BRING YOU VAST QUANTITIES OF FOOTBALL-LIKE PRODUCT!
My tireless offseason mission every year is to bring to you, our faithful readers, the best that the world has to offer in American Football and football-like substances. From the far corners of the earth, covering every hemisphere, I try my best to bring you each week a list of Rugby, Aussie Rules, CFL, and other international flavors of our most cherished game. Soccer? Not here buddy. This is about sports where you use your hands..to play...football...wait...
Usually this column only creeps up in the dead of summer, but there is SO MUCH to talk about right now. Even discussions here of the Australian Football League’s growing Women’s division will have to wait for now, because this weekend is the dawning of a new age. The birth of a new league that surely wont die a swift death like the *counting * seven other leagues that have tried it before...
Yes my friends, The Alliance of American Football is here, the next brave soul to attempt to scale the K2 of sports: Creating a functional spring football league. It has been tried so many times, and I have seen it fail so spectacularly (Watching Jordan Jefferson start at QB for the Omaha Mammoths of the FXFL is something I’ll never forget). But this time it’s different and just maybe it has a chance.
The theory goes that as ESPN was producing the excellent 30 for 30 film “This Was The XFL”, Vince McMahon and former NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol, the two men behind the original XFL, had casual discussions that maybe the time was right to try again at spring football. Ultimately, they decided against trying it together, but secretly both men were already working on plans for a return. McMahon’s XFL relaunch was announced first, but wont be coming until 2020, so we’ll leave that for later. Meanwhile, Dick’s son Charlie Ebersol, who directed the film for ESPN, had been secretly working for about 3 years on his own spring football league and was able to undercut Vince by a year.
The behind the scenes stuff is pretty interesting, and will become a bigger story when the head to head competition starts next year, but for now the AAF is on it’s own and has to find a way to survive. Of all the spring leagues I’ve seen over the years, the AAF has the most going for it that might make it successful.
It’s got 8 teams (San Diego, San Antonio, Memphis, Birmingham, Orlando, Atlanta, Salt Lake, and Arizona) placed, for the most part, in large metro areas that have big football stadiums but don’t have their own NFL team. The teams drafted QBs, but the rest of the rosters are made up of players with local ties. For example, the Birmingham team is full of former Auburn and Alabama players, Orlando has Florida players, etc. The coaching staffs are the expected grab bag of former NFL and college guys in the sunset of their careers (Rick Neuheisel, Mike Singletary, and Steve Spurrier).
The finances of the league are what you’d expect from a sport in it’s infancy. All teams are owned by the league and player salaries are capped, for all players, at a non-guaranteed three-year, $250,000 deal, thought further performance bonuses are possible. The AAF has also secured a multi-year TV deal with CBS, Turner Sports, and, curiously enough, the NFL Network, which will air a majority of the league’s games this season. Games will also air on big network CBS for this premier weekend, then on CBS Sports Network, TNT, and Turner’s BR Live streaming platform (which soccer fans will recognize as the much maligned new home of the Champions League). Like the CFL, games are played on Saturday and Sunday and wont overlap.
The rule changes are a lot of items that other leagues have talked about, but never implemented.
Play clock: The AAF’s play clock will be 35 seconds, five seconds shorter than the NFL’s.
Timeouts/challenges: There are no television timeouts during games and an ongoing effort to have fewer commercials to reduce overall game time to roughly 150 minutes instead of 180 minutes in the NFL. Additionally, replays will be limited to two coach’s challenges for either team.
Kickoffs: Games will start without kickoffs as a nod to player safety. There will be a coin toss, with the winner deciding whether to receive or defer. The team that gets the ball will send out its offense to start from its 25.
Onside Kicks: While onside kicks are out, “onside conversions” are in, if a team is trailing by 17 points or more for either team inside of five minutes remaining in the game. So, rather than trying an onside kick, a team must convert a fourth-and-12 from its 28 in order to keep the ball.
Two-point conversions: There will be no extra point attempts after touchdowns, only two-point conversions.
Overtimes: To help keep games within a two-and-a-half hour time slot, there will be one overtime session. Each team will start an offensive possession from the 10-yard line, and just like in regulation, two-point conversions are required. Games can end in a tie after the overtime period.
Also, the league is implementing an extra ref called a “Sky Judge” who will be up in the booth and reviewing all footage, including the TV broadcast. The Sky judge will also “have the authority, but only in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter, to pick up or have flags thrown for defensive or offensive pass interference.” Yes, this is a direct change caused by this year’s NFC Championship debacle. This rule partially mirrors what goes on in the CFL, where refs have had the ability to call offensive and defensive pass interference after examining a video review for a couple of years now.
So who do we root for? Sir, this is a Memphis Express house. 8 former Tigers are on the Express roster, including QB Zach Mettenberger, RB Terrence Magee, OT Toby Weathersby, DE Sam Montgomery, DT Greg Gilmore, LB Anthony Johnson, and PKs Brad Wing and Josh Jasper. Mettenberger will be the backup to Christian Hackenberg out of Penn State. Mett’s also become the Express’s defacto social media leader with #TheMettShow
So will it work? Who knows. But it’s football, dammit, so I’m watching.
WEEKEND OBLONG SPHEROID US TV LISTINGS 2/8 - 2/10
|All Times Central||FRIDAY|
|Women's Aussie Rules||2:00 AM||GWS Giants vs North Melbourne||Fox Soccer Plus/WatchAFL|
|Super League Rugby||1:00 PM||Leeds Rhinos vs Wigan Warriors||Fox Soccer Plus|
|Americas Rugby Championship||5:00 PM||Uruguay vs. Chile||ESPN3|
|Major League Rugby||7:00 PM||Toronto Arrows at Austin Elite Rugby||Facebook Watch|
|Women's Aussie Rules||11:45 PM||Collingwood vs Melbourne||Fox Soccer Plus/WatchAFL|
|Women's Aussie Rules||2:15 AM||Western Bulldogs vs Geelong Cats||Fox Soccer Plus/WatchAFL|
|Super League Rugby||11:00 AM||Catalans Dragons vs Huddersfield Giants||Fox Soccer Plus|
|Six Nations Rugby||1:30 PM||Scotland vs Ireland||NBCSN|
|Six Nations Rugby||3:30 PM||Italy vs Wales||NBCSN|
|Americas Rugby Championship||4:00 PM||Brazil vs. Canada||ESPN3|
|Alliance Football||7:00 PM||Atlanta at Orlando (split regional telecast)||CBS|
|Alliance Football||7:00 PM||San Diego at San Antonio (split regional telecast)||CBS|
|Major League Rugby||9:00 PM||Houston SaberCats at San Diego Legion||CBSSN|
|Women's Aussie Rules||11:05 PM||Carlton vs Adelaide Crows||Fox Soccer Plus/WatchAFL|
|Women's Aussie Rules||1:05 AM||Fremantle vs Brisbane Lions||Fox Soccer Plus/WatchAFL|
|Six Nations Rugby||12:30 PM||England vs France||NBCSN|
|Major League Rugby||3:00 PM||Seattle Seawolves vs. NOLA Gold||ESPN+|
|Alliance Football||4:00 PM||Memphis at Birmingham||CBSSN|
|Alliance Football||8:00 PM||Salt Lake at Arizona||NFLN|