Football season doesn’t end with Super Bowl LIII. The inaugural season of the Alliance of American Football kicks off this weekend.
The season commences on Saturday, Feb. 9 and runs through Sunday, April 14. That’s followed immediately by a four-team playoff with the two higher seeds hosting the semifinals. The championship game will be held in Las Vegas’ Sam Boyd Stadium, home of the UNLV Rebels, on April 27.
After spending time with numerous AAF front office execs, PR folks, coaches and players alike, I’ve heard the league referred to as a few things: one complementary to the NFL, a stopgap between college and the NFL, and a “Last Chance U” of sorts.
It’s all of those things in some capacity, but at heart it’s a startup company. Like any other startup, everyone involved brings a unique background and perspective to the alliance. Roughly 70 percent of the players going through training camps have been a part of a pro football roster in some capacity within the past 18 months. Many are either aiming for another shot at the NFL or simply trying to squeeze out the last ounces of football left in them.
The head coaches are household names from the NFL and college football looking to call plays and develop athletes without either the politics of big-time contracts or rigors of recruiting. Many of the men and women behind the scenes have spent years working in the pro and college levels.
With the AAF’s first season just days away from kicking off, here’s what you need to know to get ready.
Sportsbooks are expecting significant action on the AAF, which is embracing gambling, Fantasy and mobile gaming. SportsLine takes a look at what to expect.
People to know
Charlie Ebersol, CEO/Co-founder: If the Ebersol name sounds familiar, it should. Charlie, co-founder of THE Company, is the oldest son of longtime NBC television exec Dick Ebersol, whose many impacts on TV programming included his involvement in the original XFL. (Dick is also on the AAF Board of Directors.) However, Charlie’s name and resume stands on its own merit. Ebersol has produced a number of shows and directed the ESPN 30 for 30 “This Was the XFL.”
Bill Polian, Head of Football/Co-founder: Along with Ebersol, Polian acts as one of the central components of the AAF braintrust. The former Indianapolis Colts GM is the primary gear that makes the wheels turn for the operation. His duties included creating the formula by which the AAF’s teams allocate talent from college, NFL and CFL teams. Additionally, former Titans and Rams coach Jeff Fisher is assisting in this process as a liaison between the coaches and the single entity’s front office.
J.K. McKay, Head of Football Operations: The son of former USC and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach John McKay, “J.K.” played for his father twice: once with the Trojans and again with the Bucs. He’s a leading figure in the details of the game that make the AAF unique from other pro leagues.
Hines Ward, Head of Football Development: The former Pittsburgh Steelers wideout and Super Bowl champion is a key component in the hiring of three female assistant coaches within the AAF: Jennifer King of the Arizona Hotshots, Jen Welter of the Atlanta Legends and Lo Locust of the Birmingham Iron.
Key rules to know
Ebersol has made it a point to note that there’s more that makes the AAF and the NFL similar than different. That said, the AAF has introduced a handful of interesting, key differences that separate it from the NFL.
- Play clock: The AAF’s play clock will be 35 seconds, five seconds shorter than the NFL’s. Anything less, Ebersol believes, will actually make the games longer due to sloppier play that results in stoppages through incomplete passes, penalties and the like.
- 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: There are no kickoffs; instead, teams will start drives from their own 25-yard lines. In lieu of an onside kick, each team will have a “fourth-and-10” from their 35-yard line. If the offense converts for a first down, it keeps the ball. These alterations were designed not only with player safety in mind, but as a reaction to what NFL fans find to be among the least interesting parts of the game.
- 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.
Another distinct difference between the NFL and AAF are the contracts. Every player, from the starting quarterback to a backup safety, is on a non-guaranteed three-year, $250,000 deal. However, players can earn bonuses in a variety of ways, including performances and through fan engagement. Performance-based bonuses are handed out via “coins” to entire sides of the ball, offense and/or defense, instead of individual players.
The AAF’s 10-week, 40-game regular-season slate will begin Saturday, Feb. 9, at 8 p.m. ET from Spectrum Stadium in Florida, where the Orlando Apollos will host the Atlanta Legends; and from The Alamodome in Texas, where the San Antonio Commanders will host the San Diego Fleet. Typically, there will be two Saturday games and two Sunday games with one during the afternoon and one in the evening.
CBS is scheduled to broadcast the AAF’s Opening Day, while CBS Sports Network will then carry one AAF game each week throughout the season. You can also see a week-by-week schedule for individual teams below.
Arizona Hotshots (Schedule)
Stadium: Sun Devil Stadium
General Manager: Phil Savage
Head Coach: Rick Neuheisel
Players to know: RB Jhurrell Pressley, OT Malcolm Bunche, DB Rahim Moore, LB Obum Gwacham, QB Trevor Knight
Birmingham Iron (Schedule)
Stadium: Legion Field
General Manager: Joe Pendry
Head Coach: Tim Lewis
Players to know: RB Trent Richardson, TE Weslye Saunders, QB Luis Perez
Memphis Express (Schedule)
Stadium: Liberty Bowl
General Manager: Will Lewis
Head Coach: Mike Singletary
Players to know: WR Kayaune Ross, LB DeMarquis Gates, CB Justin Martin, DL Anthony Johnson, RB Kenny Hilliard
Orlando Apollos (Schedule)
Stadium: Spectrum Stadium
General Manager: Tim Ruskell
Head Coach: Steve Spurrier
Players to know: QB Garrett Gilbert, RB Akeem Hunt, WR Brian Tyms, DL Jerel Worthy, LB Terence Garvin
Salt Lake Stallions (Schedule)
Stadium: Rice-Eccles Stadium
General Manager: Randy Mueller
Head Coach: Dennis Erickson
Players to know: QB B.J. Daniels, WR Kaelin Clay, WR Kenny Bell
San Antonio Commanders (Schedule)
General Manager: Daryl “Moose” Johnston
Head Coach: Mike Riley
Players to know: QB Dustin Vaughan, RB Kenneth Farrow II, WR Mekale McKay, LB Jayrone Elliott, DB Orion Stewart
San Diego Fleet (Schedule)
Stadium: SDCCU Stadium
General Manager: David Boller
Head Coach: Mike Martz
Players to know: QB Mike Bercovici, WR Kameron Kelly, TE Gavin Escobar, DE Alex Barrett, LB Eric Pinkins