Alliance kicks off latest spring venture

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Super Bowl LIII is over, players and coaches are planning vacations and now begins that annual long, seven-month wait for meaningful football.

Well, actually, not this year.

Fans have to wait only until Saturday when the new Alliance of American Football kicks off its inaugural season.

The AAF, which was founded by television producer Charlie Ebersol and former Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian, consists of eight teams from mostly non-NFL markets. The league will have a 12-game season culminating in a championship game that will take place April 27 at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas.

Ebersol is the son of longtime television executive Dick Ebersol, who spent decades producing NFL and Olympic Games telecasts for NBC. The elder Ebersol was involved in the XFL, which played one season in 2001. (WWE CEO Vince McMahon, who founded the XFL, says he’s bringing back that league in 2020.)

The new league has television contracts with CBS, Turner and NFL Network.

CBS will televise Saturday’s kickoff game between the San Diego Fleet and San Antonio Commanders and the April 27 title game. CBS Sports Network will show one game per week. Turner has a multi-year deal to televise one regular-season game and one playoff game on TNT. Turner will also stream one game a week on its B/R Live platform. NFL Network will televise two games per week, according to Sports Business Daily.

Most AAF games will take place on Saturdays and Sundays during the 10-week regular season.

While the AAF does not intend to compete with the NFL, there are a number of former players involved. Michael Vick is the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta franchise, former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward is player relations executive, and former Steelers safety Troy Palamalu will be the head of public relations.

Although there is no official relationship between the two leagues, many NFL coaches and personnel executives will use the AAF as a sort of developmental league.

“We’re all kinds of excited about it,” Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told ESPN Seattle last year. “We’re going to take it in and do the evaluations where they allow us to, when we can see them and all that. We’ll do all the film work. We’ll do everything. We’ll break all those guys down. We’ll just take it as (another) whole aspect of a feeding system to give us information. The only way we know how to do it is totally go for it, so we’re going to really embrace the whole set up.”

A number of former NFL players are on AAF rosters. Quarterbacks Josh Johnson, who started three games for the Redskins in December, Christian Hackenburg and Zac Mettenburg, were among the signal-callers selected in the AAF’s November QB Draft.

Mike Singletary, Steve Spurrier, Rick Neuheisel and Dennis Erickson are all head AAF coaches.

The league has said it will make an effort to put regionally familiar faces on its teams.

Vick is joined in Atlanta by former University of Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray; former Alabama running backs Blake Sims and Heisman Trophy winner Trent Richardson will take the field for the Birmingham Iron; Spurrier will lead the Orlando franchise, just down the road from Gainesville where he coached the University of Florida to six SEC titles and a national championship.

“I think that was important to really establish a fanbase within our cities,” Ward told SB Nation. “To have guys who played there, who they grew up liking or cheering for, and now really having the opportunity to see them. I thought that was important for our league as well as the players so they can get a sense of a comfort level playing back at home.”

More than 70 percent of the AAF’s 400-plus players have spent time on NFL rosters over the past 18 months, Ebersol said.

“I played in the USFL and started my coaching career with NFL Europe. I got a chance to see those and this has a different feel to it,” Memphis Express general manager Will Lewis told the (Memphis) Commercial Appeal. “It just feels like real football by real football guys, so to speak. Not knocking other guys, but that’s just how it feels with this league.”

The new league’s rules will mirror the NFL, with a few key differences:

• The play clock will be trimmed from 40 seconds to 30.

• Teams must go for two after scoring a touchdown.

• There will be no kickoffs. Instead, teams will start from their own 25-yard line. Teams that would have attempted an onside kick may try to convert a fourth-and-10 play from their own 35.

The league’s app will allow bettors to place in-game wagers. The AAF signed a three-year deal with MGM Resorts after the Supreme Court gave state legislatures the ability to legalize sports gambling.

“The issue we have right now with sports is latency gaming. What that means is the majority of the 2.0 stats that come off, come off roughly 3 to 12 seconds after the play,” Memphis president Kosha Irby said. “We have the technology and the ability to get that data in 3 seconds. And we’re going to allow that data to be transferred into a prop bet in under 12 seconds, before the next play goes off.”

Irby called the AAF “a tech company running a football league.”

“It’s not just about rolling out a football and saying, ‘Go play.’ We will have that initially, but with digital and gaming and everything we’re doing on the back end, there’s a longer methodology at play here,” he told the Commercial Appeal.

The Westgate SuperBook made the Arizona Hotshots 5-2 favorites to win the inaugural league title.

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About the Author

Ched Whitney

Ched Whitney has been a journalist in Las Vegas since 1994. He worked for the Las Vegas Review-Journal for 18 years, where he was the paper’s art director for 12. Since becoming a freelancer in 2012, his work has appeared at ESPN.com, AOL, The Seattle Times and UNLV Magazine, among others. ​

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