What really is the AAF and why should you care?

When the San Diego Fleet’s defense took the field for first snap after the “ceremonial ball placement” Saturday, history was made.

The Fleet became the first team to play in an Alliance of American Football (AAF) game and, it appears, could be just the first of many to come.

So, since the AAF made its debut over the weekend filled with bone rattling hits in front of crowds reaching 30,000 people, let’s take a look at what the League is really about and get caught up to speed with why you should care about it.

It’s not the NFL… and that’s OK!

For anyone who tuned into the first two games of the League’s existence Saturday, it became obvious from even before the game began this was going to be ‘new’ football when 2x Super Bowl champion Hines Ward, Head of Football Development for the AAF, walked onto the field in a track suit for the ceremonial ball placement for first snap (the AAF doesn’t have kickoffs, but more on that later). Some of the names flanking the backs of players were recognizable — Mike Bercovici, De’Vante Bausby, Nelson Spruce — while many others were not, but the faces roaming sidelines as head coaches certainly were: Steve Spurier, Mike Riley and Mike Martz to name a few. There was extra access for viewers, such as mic’d up players and insider camera/mics on replay officials.

There were fewer stoppages, less penalties and legitimately entertaining plays that made you get off the couch:

Not only is it not the NFL, it doesn’t want to be. During the pregame show, AAF co-founder and former NFL executive Bill Polian explained his plans for the League five to 10 years down the road is for the NFL to acknowledge it as a breeding ground for talent where they can develop their players. There is no overlapping of the season and no competition for eyeballs. Unlike leagues of the past, they are aiming for a harmonious relationship. For a League whose mission is to provide “high-quality professional football fueled by a dynamic Alliance between players, fans and the game,” it definitely succeeded on Day 1.

Rule changes

Not only are the players and philosophies different than the NFL, but several of the rules are as well. While there are plenty to rattle off, here are the two biggest that will almost certainly draw your attention:

  1. Kicking game: as previously mentioned, there are no kickoffs. Instead, the game begins after a coin toss determines which team will start with the ball with said team taking over possession on ‘first snap’ at their own 25 yard line. Also, there are no onside kicks. If a team is trailing by 17 points or less, or the game is in its final five minutes, a team can elect to play an “onsides down”. This onsides down is a 4th and 12 scenario on the team’s own 28 yard line. If there reach the line to gain, the drive continues; if they don’t, the opposing team takes over. Finally, teams are not allowed to kick PATs — you must go for two after scoring a touchdown.
  2. Blitzing: defenses are only allowed to blitz five players and they all must be around the line of scrimmage at the time of the snap (meaning no safety/corner blitzes coming from the secondary). That said, clearly from the play above players are still finding ways to deliver MASSIVE (and clean) hits.

Which team should I follow

In case you don’t want to root for the home team, here is a list of each of the eight inaugural teams:

Arizona Hotshots

Atlanta Legends

Birmingham Iron

Memphis Express

Orlando Apollos

Salt Lake Stallions

San Antonio Commanders

San Diego Fleet

How do I watch?

The 10-game regular season will be televised across multiple networks throughout the year until the championship game on April 27. Don’t want to just watch it from the house? Get your tickets here!

So that’s it! Well, not everything, but enough to sit back and soak in some ‘offseason football’ with an understanding and appreciation for what’s happening on the field.