Mark Clark: The AAF may bring new excitement to pro football

Mark Clark: The AAF may bring new excitement to pro football

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Arizona Hotshots, Atlanta Legends, Birmingham Iron, Memphis Express, Orlando Apollos, Salt Lake Stallions, San Antonio Commanders and San Diego Fleet.

Those are the names of the teams in the new Alliance of American Football (AAF). Call it a lower scale of the old United States Football League (USFL), a defunct league that attempted to compete against the National Football League (NFL). The USFL allocated regional talent to its teams and then the rest of the players were free to sign with whomever they wished. That is the concept being used by the new AAF which began playing its 10-week, 10-game schedule for each team this past weekend. Games will be played on Saturday and Sunday each week. 

The AAF is also borrowing from the plan for the Xtreme Football League (XFL), which will begin playing next year. The AAF is paying its players $250,000 over three years. Three years is the length of all of the contracts for players in the league. That’s $83,333 per season per player whether the player starts or sits the bench each game. The XFL plans to pay each player $75,000 per year. Both leagues also plan to pay bonuses to players for successful play. 

And the best thing about the two leagues is that they will not be in competition with the NFL – well, at least, not from the start. You can just never tell about billionaires who have more money than they have good sense at times. The idea behind the two new leagues is to develop players who may get a shot to play in the NFL after being originally ignored by the higher professional league. The leagues are also a second chance for some players who were in the NFL to show they still have what it takes to play in the higher league.

Finally, a real group of minor league teams that could eventually become affiliates of the NFL teams. Would it not be great to have the Atlanta Legends be the feeder team for the Atlanta Falcons? The Birmingham Iron could be the minor league team for the Tennessee Titans or maybe the New Orleans Saints? These new leagues could build some excitement if this is what becomes of these two leagues.

Just do not excited about that possibility right now. That is not what is happening. The AAF has just begun to play and we have a year before we see an XFL game. Right now, one AAF coach understands what the new league is for and said so after his team won its first game Saturday. Steve Spurrier, coach of the Orlando franchise, was asked what would happen if a guy signed with an NFL team and left right away. 

Spurrier said, “I would shake his hand and congratulate him. Then we would turn to the next guy at the position and give him an opportunity to develop so that he might get the same opportunity.” I appreciate Spurrier making his comments and getting people on the right track from the start. In other words, do not get attached to a player and expect him to have a long career with an AAF team. It is not going to happen. If no interest is shown in a player after three years, the teams will reassess the possibility of his advancing to the NFL. Most likely, he will be released and a new player will move to his spot to get his opportunity to make it up with the big boys of football.

Something else I think will get people to enjoy watching the AAF is its rules. There are no kickoffs and teams will get the ball at their own 25 to begin drives after touchdowns and at the beginning of each half. There will be no field goals in overtime periods and no extra point kicks after touchdowns ever. You have to go for two points after a touchdown. If a team wants to retain possession of the football after scoring, it cannot get the ball via an onside kick. To get the ball, a team will get the ball on its own 28 with one play to get to its 40 – a 12-yard gain – in what amounts to a fourth down. If they make the 12 yards, the team gets to keep the ball and move on from there. If it does not get the 12 yards, their opponents get the ball from where the play ends. That will make a lot of teams think twice about attempting to retain the ball under this system. Think about it, an incomplete pass gives your opponent the ball at your 28-yard line. 

There will also be fewer plays reviewed. And when plays are reviewed, the head referee will not go stick his head under a hood to look at a screen while the play is being looked at by off the field officials. The head referee will stand and listen to the off the field official make the decision and the audience will be able to listen to the official as he or she watches the play and makes a final determination. I watched parts of two games and saw the off the field official three or four times make a decision on plays. I thought it was interesting. If you will take the time to watch this new league, you may find it interesting as well.

Mark Clark is a local sports writer for The Citizen of East Alabama.

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