America’s newest professional football league, the Alliance of American Football (AAF), begins play the week following Super Bowl LIII with kickoff set for Saturday, Feb. 9.
Does the NFL finally have a competitor? Is it just another alternative to keep us occupied during the NFL offseason? Or will it dissolve like other potential competing leagues of the past? Everyone remembers the XFL and Arena Football League, right? Those questions will be answered over the next couple of months as the AAF launches.
So far the league is off to the right start. They waste little time in getting started with the first games happening Feb. 9 and 10, which should lure in football fans still needing a fix a week after the Super Bowl. They also have a strong set of television partners as the AAF's opening weekend will be televised on CBS with the games shifting to CBS Sports Network, NFL Network, and Turner Sports afterwards. CBS also is the broadcaster for Super Bowl LIII.
So, if you're wondering "What is AAF football?" Here's the full 411 on the AAF.
What does AAF stand for?
It stands for Alliance of American Football. Founded in March 2018, the league says its mission is “to provide high-quality professional football fueled by a dynamic Alliance between players, fans, and the game.”
Who's in charge of the AAF?
The league was co-founded by Bill Polian and Charlie Ebersol. Polian was an NFL executive for nearly 30 years, best remembered for his tenure in the front office of the Indianapolis Colts from 1997-2011, and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in '15. Ebersol is the son of Dick Ebersol, the former chairman of NBC Sports (1989-2011) who was instrumental in the networks' NFL, NBA and Olympic coverage. The younger Ebersol is an accomplished media personality in his own right having produced many successful television programs.
One of his most recent projects was the highly-praised 2017 30 for 30 documentary titled “This Was The XFL” featuring his father along with XFL founder (and World Wrestling Entertainment chairman) Vince McMahon. The league office has quite a few faces with NFL ties. Pittsburgh Steelers legends Hines Ward (Head of Football Development), and Troy Polamalu (Head of Player Relations) are part of the day-to-day operations. While former NFL referees Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino, who now grace our televisions and mobile devices every Sunday between September and December, are the AAF’s officiating consultants. These men make up just a small portion of the AAF’s leadership team.
How many teams are in the AAF?
The league will have eight teams in two conferences that are mainly located in the southern and western parts of the United States.
(Click team below to see their schedule)
(Click team below to see their schedule)
Each team will have a 52-man roster comprised of players who either have previous experience in the NFL or in other leagues, or who were standouts in college but didn’t quite get their shot at the next level. Some players will be assigned to teams that are close to where they played their college ball. The AAF also held a quarterback draft over this past Thanksgiving weekend.
Starter is the league’s uniform maker, outfitter, and apparel provider
How does the league schedule its games?
The AAF will have a 10-week schedule which will total 40 games that will be played on both Saturdays and Sundays (with one Friday game scheduled). The regular season begins on Saturday, Feb. 9 and concludes on Sunday, April 14. Each team will play their conference opponents twice (at home and on the road) and face each of the four teams in the other conference (two home, two away). The playoffs in April will be a four-team affair consisting of the top two teams from both conferences. The championship game will take place on Saturday, April 27 at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas.
How can I watch AAF games?
CBS, NFL Network, and Turner Sports have all signed on as media partners. Three of the four games in Week 1 will be televised on CBS with the other on NFL Network. CBS Sports Network along with NFL Network will serve as the primary outlets with B/R Live scheduled to stream one game a week starting in Week 2. Here's the entire AAF league's schedule with broadcasts and kickoffs.
Are there any rule changes?
There will be no kickoffs or extra point attempts (PATs), so apparently placekickers need not apply. To open each half and after scores, teams will start drives at their own 25-yard line. Following touchdowns, teams must attempt a two-point conversion.
The play clock will be 35 seconds, five seconds shorter than the NFL.
On defense, teams can only rush five players. Any player that lines up on the line of scrimmage is designated as one of the five eligible pass rushers, regardless of whether they rush or not. Defensive players must be within two yards outside the widest offensive lineman (presumably a tackle) and five yards from the line of scrimmage. The exceptions would be play-action or run-pass option plays and if the ball leaves the tackle box. Any violation of these rules is considered "illegal defense" and will result in a 15-yard penalty.
No onisde kicks are allowed. There is an opportunity for a team to retain possession after a score. In that situation, the team with the ball will start at its own 28 and have one down to get at least 12 yards. The only time this can be attempted is if that team is trailing by 17 points or more, or if it is behind within the final five minutes of the game.
Following a safety, if the team scored upon wants to try to retain possession, the ball will be placed at the 18 and it will have one down to get at least 12 yards.
In overtime the ball will start on the 10-yard line and the team with possession will have four downs and must go for two if they score (field goals not allowed). If the game is still tied after two overtime periods it will end as a tie.
There will be a three-minute break between the first and second quarters, as well as the third and fourth quarters. There will be a 13-minute break for halftime.
Game telecasts will feature no television timeouts and significantly fewer (reported 60 percent) commercials, as the AAF's goal is an approximate real-time game length of around 150 minutes. NFL averages more than 180 minutes.
There will be an extra referee assigned to every seven-man crew. The "sky judge" will be located in the press box and will have access to real-time technology to review every play. Besides having the ability to correct "obvious and egregious" officiating errors, including overturning called penalties or insituitng missed ones, the sky judge also will have authority over matters involving player safety.
How will players be compensated?
Each player will receive three-year, non-guaranteed contracts worth $250,000. They will also receive health insurance which usually doesn’t happen in most professional sports. Additionally, players will be paid an “education stipend” upon completion of their first season in order to help cover costs should they decide to give school another try. Outside of the NFL, this seems like one of the better deals that pro football players can get.
Who are the AAF head coaches?
Perhaps you recognize many of the names who will be leading these eight teams for the AAF’s debut season (in alphabetical order):
Kevin Coyle, Atlanta Legends
Longtime NFL defensive assistant in both college and the NFL with more than 30 years of coaching experience getting his first shot as a head coach.
Dennis Erickson, Salt Lake Stallions
Former college and NFL head coach who won two national titles (1989, '91) when he was at the University of Miami. Most recently served as assistant head coach/running backs coach at the University of Utah (2014-16).
Tim Lewis, Birmingham Iron
Like Kevin Coyle, Lewis is the only other first-time head coach in the AAF. A first-round pick (11th overall) by Green Bay in the 1983 NFL Draft after playing at Pittsburgh, Lewis has nearly 30 years of coaching experience, including two stints as defensive coordinator in the NFL.
Mike Martz, San Diego Fleet
Offensive coordinator and later head coach during the St. Louis Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf" era, Martz served in that capacity for three other NFL teams before taking a break from coaching.
Rick Neuheisel, Arizona Hotshots
A head coach for three different Pac-12 programs, Neuheisel also spent three years as an assistant with the Baltimore Ravens.
Mike Riley, San Antonio Commanders
Riley has been a head coach in college and the NFL as well as the Canadian Football League and the World League of American Football. His 40-plus years of coaching experience include winning two Grey Cups in the CFL.
Mike Singletary, Memphis Express
A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame after starring at linebacker for the Chicago Bears, Singletary also spent 12 years as a coach in the NFL, including two-plus as the San Francisco 49ers' head coach.
Steve Spurrier, Orlando Apollos
A College Football Hall of Fame inductee as both a player and a coach, Spurrier won both the Heisman Trophy (1966) and national title (1996) when he was at Florida. He has 285 career wins as a collegiate, NFL and USFL head coach.
Who are some notable players to watch for?
Fans will remember many of the players that will suit up for the AAF in 2019.
(Players listed in alphabetical order)
Gavin Escobar, TE, San Diego Fleet (played at San Diego State, second-round pick in 2013 NFL Draft)
Christian Hackenberg, QB, Memphis Express (played at Penn State, second-round pick in 2016 NFL Draft)
Akeem Hunt, RB, Orlando Apollos (played at Purdue, spent three seasons in the NFL from 2015-17)
Trevor Knight, QB, Arizona Hotshots (played at Oklahoma and Texas A&M)
Zach Mettenberger, QB, Memphis Express (played at LSU, sixth-round pick in 2014 NFL Draft, made 10 starts for Tennessee Titans in 2014-15)
Aaron Murray, QB, Atlanta Legends (played at Georgia, fifth-round pick in 2014 NFL Draft)
Trent Richardson, RB, Birmingham Iron (starred at Alabama, No. 3 overall pick in 2012 NFL Draft)
Blake Sims, QB, Birmingham Iron (played at Alabama)
Will Sutton, DT, Arizona Hotshots (played at Arizona State, third-round pick in 2014 NFL Draft)
Justin Thomas, WR, Atlanta Legends (played QB for Georgia Tech from 2013-16)
What do the uniforms look like?
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.