Sports

The AAF Is a Sensible Alternative to No Football at All

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 09:  Trent Richardson #3 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates with the trophy after defeating Louisiana State University Tigers in the 2012 Allstate BCS National Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 9, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Alabama  won the game by a score of 21-0.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Trent Richardson was a national champion and a first-round draft pick. Now, he’s the starting running back for the Birmingham Iron.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

If you’re still buzzing from the punting bonanza that was last week’s Super Bowl, the Alliance of American Football is here to help take the edge off. The AAF (not to be confused with ALF, which was a television show about an alien and is spelled differently) makes its debut on Saturday night with two inaugural games. It follows in the footsteps of the USFL and XFL to provide spring football to the masses, though its creators don’t carry the same delusions of grandeur as their forbearers. The AAF is intended to supplement the NFL, not usurp it, and some games will even be broadcast on the NFL Network. In theory, it’s a relatively sensible endeavor—at least as sensible as something featuring a team called “The Salt Lake Stallions” can be.

The AAF has 10 teams and, with the exception of the aforementioned Salt Lake squad, all of them are located in the southern part of the country. Franchises get dibs on players who went to colleges nearby, which ostensibly gives them a foothold in local markets. (For example, former Florida and Florida State stars are assigned to the Orlando Apollos). The first two games are on Saturday night, and CBS will be carrying television coverage throughout the 10-week regular season.

The AAF features a strong collection of vaguely familiar players and coaches. It might not be enough to make you buy Birmingham Iron season tickets, but the sight of Trent Richardson in pads may get you to stop flipping channels for a few minutes. The league allows its players to accept call-ups to the NFL (and vice versa), and San Diego Fleet quarterback Josh Johnson left his AAF team to start for Washington in key games during the NFC East playoff race.

Spring football leagues have a dire track record. The USFL was too ambitious and folded after three years, while the XFL barely made it through its flamboyantly stupid and concussion-filled inaugural season. The most intriguing thing about a spring football league isn’t whether or not it lasts, but rather what parts of it survive beyond its inevitable demise. Both the USFL and XFL featured innovations that would eventually be adopted by the NFL. The XFL introduced Skycam to the world, and the NFL cribbed its current instant replay review system from the USFL. With this in mind, here are a few AAF rule changes that may, one day, make it big.

No extra points.
Teams have to go for two. There are no kickoffs, either, and teams will instead get possession on their own 25-yard line. Kickers are barely involved. Speaking of which …

Onside kicks are replaced by one fourth-and-12 play on the team’s own 28-yard line.
This is a terrific idea that I endorse wholeheartedly.

Overtime is kind of similar to the college system.
Except each team gets the ball on the 10-yard line, and they aren’t allowed to kick field goals.

The play clock is 35 seconds instead of 40 seconds.
There will also be no TV timeouts. The aim is to keep games under two-and-a-half hours.

There will be a “sky judge.” (This is not a euphemism for God.)
The officiating crew includes a ninth referee who sits in the booth and constantly reviews game action. The sky judge has the power to make calls or overturn penalties in case the on-field officials miss them. This is perhaps the AAF’s most intriguing wrinkle. Assuming it works as intended, it seems like it could be a common-sense solution to some of the NFL’s most glaring officiating issues. New Orleans would have certainly appreciated the presence of a sky judge during the NFC Championship game.

If you hate kickers and blown calls, the AAF might be for you. At least, until the NFL kicks off again and makes you totally forget about the existence of ALF or whatever it’s called.