Spring football. It's not a new idea. It's been tried, and has failed many times. Even an NFL-supported second league has been done before. But this is different. Or is it? We'll find out over time. The Alliance of American Football is here. At least for the next ten weeks.
Some older folks (older than I am anyway) might remember the American Football League. It merged into the National Football League in 1970 creating two conferences, and that was deemed a success. The World Football League, United States Football League, World League of American Football, XFL, and UFL (no one remembers them and that was just two years ago) all tried to extend the season, and had very short runs. It's way too early to tell if this league has staying power, but the all-powerful NFL figures it's worth a shot.
The AAF, just referred to by all the executives and announcers as 'The Alliance', seized the opportunity of what is seen as some as a void, by kicking off the weekend after the Super Bowl. On Saturday in prime time, CBS, which will televise the championship game in April, regionalized two telecasts. Most of America got to see the San Antonio Commanders against the San Diego Fleet, while the deep south and other markets got the Atlanta Legends at the Orlando Apollos.
Keeping with the 'following the Super Bowl' trend, neither San Diego nor San Antonio scored in the first quarter, and there was only one touchdown in the whole game, and it came in the fourth. The Commanders were victorious 15-6 in front of a crowd of 27,857 at the Alamodome—the largest crowd of the weekend. In the other game, the Apollos routed the Legends 40-6, but unless you lived in those CBS markets, no one saw it.
The 'Alliance' has eight teams, which means four games. On Sunday. CBS Sports Network, which will have a game every Sunday at 1pm Pacific during the season, had the Birmingham Iron shutting out the Memphis Express 26-0, and the Sunday Night game on NFL Network, which looks to have about half the league's schedule, carried the Arizona Hotshots 38-22 victory over the Salt Lake Stallions—the highest scoring game of the inaugural weekend. TNT is another television partner, and will have their first AAF broadcast next week.
If you tuned into the CBS broadcast Saturday, it was probably because of curiosity. If you stayed, it was likely not because of a scoring play, but because of a vicious hit by San Antonio linebacker Shaan Washington on San Diego QB Mike Bercovici. The ball went flying one way, and Bercovici's helmet went flying another way, but somehow the quarterback was unhurt and stayed in the game. Twitter and other social media lit up from NFL players, fans, and others. Intrigue and curiosity won the day, and the ratings would equal the NBA on ABC.
In addition to watching something a hundred times better than the Pro Bowl will ever be a week after the NFL season concluded, fans also had to be intrigued about some of the rules. Kickoffs have been abolished in the Alliance. A possession starts with the ball placed at the 25 yard line. No kickoffs means no onside kicks, so instead, a team can choose to run a 'fourth and 12' play from their own 28 yard line. That rule was not invoked during opening weekend.
Punts and field goals are allowed, but extra points are not. A team must go for two after every touchdown—so that means either 8 points or 6 points after a TD, but no 7. You get a feeling that the NFL may be trying to phase out kickers, even though the game is called football.
Supposedly, an official in the press box can over-rule any egregious non-calls or mistakes, apparently trying to prevent a Rams-Saints situation from happening again. However, a replay review was blown in the Birmingham-Memphis game, where the replay official refused to overturn the call of a catch when the ball was clearly dropped. That led directly to Birmingham's first score.
The Alliance is definitely billing itself as a developmental league, with 81 percent of its players having some NFL experience, but because there are no household names on their rosters (remember Herschel Walker in the USFL?), the marquee names in the NFL are its coaches. Dennis Erickson coaches the Salt Lake team. Mike Martz leads San Diego, and Rick Neuheisel Arizona. Mike Riley lives in San Antonio and coaches the Commanders, Mike Singletary has signed on with Memphis, and the old ball coach, Steve Spurrier, is head coach in Orlando. Kevin Coyle (Atlanta) and Tim Lewis (Birmingham) are first time head coaches. To add some more names, Bill Polian is a co-founder, and Hines Ward is the Director of Player development.
The players are paid about 80-thousand dollars a season, with the season consisting of ten games. The teams are aligned into two four-team divsions. A team will face a division opponent twice, and the four teams in the other division once each. The top two teams in each division make the playoffs, and the championship game will be played the final weekend in April.
Six of the eight teams are in non-NFL markets, and you have to wonder why Arizona and Atlanta have franchises. One would think Sacramento, Portland, Austin, or Oklahoma City might be good sites in the west, although perhaps there are stadium issues. St. Louis, Raleigh-Durham, or somewhere in Virginia would be good for the east, but the venues are set and the league has set forth.
All the home teams won, and the average margin of victory was 21 points. San Diego, Salt Lake, Atlanta, and Memphis haven't played at home yet. Viewers chose the Alliance over the NBA this weekend, and maybe they'll prefer football to the All-Star game coming up. Will the Alliance catch on? You have to tune to CBSSN, The NFL Network, or TNT to find out. Or just wait for the championship game. Except, it will be baseball season by then.
Pitchers and catchers, but no Bryce or Manny: Major League Baseball opens spring training camps this week, but there are still several free agents still unsigned. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are deservedly getting all the headlines, but Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel are still without contracts, as are Jose Bautista, Clay Buchholz, Evan Gattis, Carlos Gonzalez, Gio Gonzalez, Marwin Gonzalez, Josh Harrison, Edwin Jackson, Adam Jones, Ryan Madson, Mike Moustakas, Bud Norris, Hanley Ramirez, Matt Wieters, and dozens of others. There's probably no way to make a rule to stop this insanity, but it's a shame.
We're not disabled: While baseball teams can't seem to figure out what to do about unsigned free agents, how to put the ball in play more, or whether 'the shift' should be made illegal, they did make time to resolve an issue that has been bugging absolutely no one for no period of time at all. From now on, if a player is taken off the active roster because they are hurt, they will be placed on the 10-day Injured List instead of the Disabled List. Semantics, but apparently 'disabled' now has a negative connotation. The truth is, 'disabled' was more accurate. We all know that if a pitcher has a 7.35 ERA, the team 'disables' them, whether they are injured or not.
Gold Sox live: According to the team's website, Marysville's amateur summer collegiate wood bat baseball team will play in 2019. The short statement says details will be unveiled February 20.