Like the blink of an eye, it came and it went. It was a vapor in the wind, a shooting star. Before you had the chance to appreciate it, it was gone.
On Tuesday, the Alliance of American Football (AAF) formally announced it would be immediately suspending all football operations. The league was eight weeks into its 10-week season. At this time, it appears unlikely the league will ever start up again.
As a self-proclaimed life-long Memphis Express fan, I was broken up when I heard the league had folded.
However, while its time was short, the AAF’s impact on the world of football can already be seen in the National Football League (NFL).
In March, the NFL announced it was considering adding another official to each field crew, much like the AAF did this season. The new sky judge would be responsible for reviewing egregious officiating errors and overturning them from a replay booth.The official would serve a role similar to Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in soccer.
The presence of the sky judge would help remedy calls like the missed pass interference call in this year’s NFC Championship Game. In the short AAF season, the sky judge made several calls officials had missed on the field, including a penalty for targeting a defenseless receiver late in a close game.
One area in which the AAF has found success is its transparency. All communication between the sky judge and referee is recorded and streamed on the broadcast. The referees can no longer hide their decisions from the viewer and fan.
The AAF offered great access to the players, coaches and officials. They employed an “open mic”policy, allowing fans to hear the back-and- forth chatter between the players.The results were golden: Orlando Apollos Head Coach Steve Spurrier was caught saying to his quarterback,“tell [the receiver] to catch it this time.”
Apollos quarterback Garrett Gilbert was caught in a fiery tirade with officials over a holding call. In the last game of the season, Express quarterback Johnny Manziel was caught trash talking an entire defense, even though he was only in the game for a few plays.
The access granted by the AAF could translate to the NFL as well. When the first iteration of the XFL was formed in 2001, it offered sideline reporting, cable cam and post-game locker room interviews, all of which have become regular staples in the NFL. It would not be surprising to see the NFL increase fan access to players once more, especially in light of how successful it was in the AAF.
The short-lived league also had short-lived games. One major complaint about the NFL is the length of games, which typically last three to four hours. The AAF, by contrast, cut the number of commercial breaks and reduced the average length of games to two-and-a-half hours.
The AAF’s new-look, limited commercial league may not catch on with the NFL, particularly given that the AAF is being forced to shut down because they have run out of funding, which could have been raised through more advertising.
There is still a sliver of hope left for a second AAF season. Executives are holding out hope the league can partner with the NFL to allow NFL practice-squad players to compete in the league. If the deal goes through with the NFL Players’ Association, the impacts of the Alliance may be felt even more.