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Could The NFL Learn A Thing Or Two From The AAF?

TEMPE, AZ - FEBRUARY 10: SaQwan Edwards #31 of the Arizona Hotshots looks to recover a fumbled punt by the Salt Lake Stallions during the first half of the Alliance of American Football game at Sun Devil Stadium on February 10, 2019 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/AAF/Getty Images)

On Saturday night almost three million people across the United States tuned in to the inaugural telecast of the American Alliance of Football to watch games in both Orlando and San Antonio.  With the National Football League season coming to an end after last week’s Super Bowl, there’s a void of professional football this time of year and the new 10-team league, which believes it’s a developmental league to the NFL rather than a competitor, seized an opportunity.

While the television broadcasts weren’t without a few minor hiccups, for the most part the five games shown over the weekend were a success, proving the AAF can provide competitive football.  It still has a long way to go if it wants to be its massive competitor though the new league could provide a way to help end the late winter football blues. And, like the XFL before it, the AAF has implemented several trailblazing ideas the NFL should consider using during the upcoming season.

Arguably the most ground-breaking of those ideas comes from the rule book.  At its core, the AAF is very similar to the NFL, though it’s clear the powers that be noticed some faults that, when fixed, could enhance the game from a fan’s perspective.  First of all, there are no kickoffs or extra points. Opening possessions and possessions after scoring plays begin at the 25 yard line and every touchdown must be capped off with a two-point conversion.  Speaking of kicking, there’s no onside kicks in the AAF. Knowing that the play works only a minuscule amount, the league instead made an onside conversion – a 4th and 12 from the team’s own 28 yard line. This cannot be attempted unless a team is down by at least 17 or trails with under five minutes in the fourth quarter.

Overtime has been a tumultuous topic in recent weeks given how both the AFC and the NFC Championship were decided in extra time.  With a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, the Kansas City Chiefs lost the game without ever getting the ball on offense in overtime, thanks to the team’s defense being unable to stop Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.  The AAF keeps it simple, taking a page from how college football does it. Overtime consists of one possession for each team and it starts on the opposition’s 10 yard line. Teams must score a touchdown and go for the two-point conversion, though games can end in a tie.

Along the same lines as the rules is the officiating.  Having long been a hot-button topic in the NFL, thanks to ultra high definition televisions where we can count players’ nose hairs, too often are the officials a vital part of the game and an integral part of the outcome.  Just ask New Orleans, who is still griping about that pass interference non-call in the NFC Championship despite several other opportunities on offense to potentially come away victorious. The AAF has found a way around that, it seems, with the inclusion of a “sky judge.”  The sky judge has the ability to stop the game at any point in real time and correct egregious officiating mistakes. They can also make pass interference and player safety calls inside of five minutes in the fourth quarter. The best part is that these judges are mic’ed up, so viewers can hear exactly what they’re saying as it’s happening.  Now, this doesn’t mean every call will magically be corrected but it keeps the game moving better and offers a little transparency. It could lead to some angry fans blaming the sky judges if they make a call that wasn’t obviously necessary., however. It’ll take time to see if it works but, in theory, it’s a smart idea.

All of that stuff is important to the average fan but if the quality of play on the field is lackluster, it’ll be hard to grow the brand – just look at the Arena Football League.  It has to look, sound and feel like football and if it’s not, they’re going to know and they’re going to know immediately. The AAF had some big hits this weekend, like the one on Atlanta Legends quarterback Matt Simms – and the best part is there was no penalty called.  But the one that got the most noticed – and perhaps the most retweets – was a play involving San Diego Fleet quarterback Mike Bercovici who got absolutely annihilated by San Antonio Commanders linebacker Shaan Washington, causing his helmet to fly off. Safety is important but the savagery of monster collisions are what fans want to see, especially with little attachment to these players but it’s a pretty risky trade-off. Right now, the NFL cannot really offer that, focusing highly on player safety.

So, there’s definitely things to take away from the AAF, things the NFL could incorporate into the game to make it not only more enjoyable but much more consumable.  Oh – did we mention that the games are only about two and a half hours? Maybe it’s a lack of advertising as company’s aren’t yet prepared to dip their bills in to this product, however more brief breaks is an excellent way to ensure fans come back each and every week.  

The AAF really might be an enjoyable alternative to the dog days of the NHL and NBA regular season. The biggest issue is going to be acquiring high-end talent, names fans recognize. And that’s why the NFL will remain king. The only question now is will the AAF have more staying power than the other professional football leagues that have come before it?