Football season has not ended

Did you check out the Alliance of American Football this past weekend?

Howard Simon
February 11, 2019 - 2:57 pm

Photo: Phelan M. Ebenhack - Associated Press


The first weekend after the Super Bowl can be a rough one for some football fans. It's the first weekend without a game of any kind since early August.

For those of you who normally go through football withdrawal, you don’t have to worry about that for another two and a half months.

The new Alliance of American Football made its debut over the weekend, and I’ll bet many of you checked out the new league. I did, at the very least out of curiosity, but I was also interested in the handful of rules and changes that made it different from the National Football League.

I watched the first half of Saturday’s game between the San Diego Fleet and San Antonio Commanders, and then caught some second half action of Sunday’s matchup between the Memphis Express and Birmingham Iron. The football itself wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful. It was just okay. There wasn’t much scoring, which could be a product of the teams having just one month of practices and one preseason game under their belt. It might also be the result of the level of quarterbacks in the league. Former Penn State star and NFL flame out Christian Hackenburg was a Week 1 starter, and promptly lost the job during his first game. 

The Alliance is a mix of guys who used to play in the NFL, were in NFL camps or on practice squads but couldn’t stick, and guys who played in college but weren’t good enough for an NFL look. There will be names you will recognize like former first round pick Trent Richardson, who plays for Birmingham. While watching the San Diego-San Antonio game, I saw three former Buffalo Bills on the field in Ron Brooks, A.J. Tarpley and Cyril Richardson.

The biggest reason I took a look was to see if the NFL should follow their lead on anything and the answer is yes. First off, there are no kickoffs. The ball is placed on the 25-yard line of the offensive team to start each half and after any touchdowns or field goals. You might think this as sacrilegious, but I’m completely okay with the NFL getting rid of the kickoff. As it is the impact of the return has been diminished with rules changes over the years and it seems too often like a waste of time. I didn’t miss kickoffs and the possible 15-to-20-yard return at all. It actually felt like the game had a quicker pace and better flow to it by eliminating that play and since the kick return is still the play that causes the most concussions during the game, it would make the game safer.

Out of everything I saw, I’ll tell you what excited me the most. It was part of the league’s decision to give fans watching on television more access to what happens during the game. There were plenty of on field microphones to pick up audio from players and coaches, but the league gave us access to the conversation during a coach’s challenge. I absolutely love the idea of transparency with that process and the NFL should follow suit. The Alliance challenge process involves a video official up in the press box reviewing the play and telling the referee what to do. That video review person is mic'd for sound so we can listen in to the conversation he is having with the referee down on the field. How many times have you watched an NFL game, heard the call after a challenge and wondered what the heck the folks reviewing the play could have possibly seen? Now we can know why they overturned a call or let it stand.  

There could be one possible problem for the Alliance as they go forward. There was a challenge of a completed catch during the Memphis-Birmingham game. On replay, it sure looked like the ball came out, which would have negated a 1st-and-goal for Birmingham. However, there was only one angle worth looking at and it was a camera from the opposite endzone, so it was tough to tell. I’m guessing the average telecast of a game in this league will have fewer cameras than an NFL telecast, which could limit the number of replay angles and lead to incorrect calls standing because a lack of clear visual evidence. In fact, in listening to the video official, it sure sounded like he knew it should have been an incomplete pass and the referee told him everybody down on the field thought it was incomplete, but the call stood because of the lack of clear replay evidence.  

There is a two-challenge limit for coaches no matter what, and it didn’t appear that scoring plays and turnovers were automatically reviewed. That will mean less stoppages of play. There were also less commercial breaks, and when they did have a timeout during game action, the breaks were only 30 seconds so action resumed fairly quickly. I don’t expect either of those ideas to be used by the NFL, who will be talking about expanding their challenge system and need all the commercial time possible as part of their network TV deal that brings in billions of dollars.

The rating for the initial game on CBS Saturday night was a 2.1. An average of 2.9 million people were watching between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. EST. It was a shade better than the 2.0 rating ABC had for its NBA game between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder. I’ll be more interested to see what kind of ratings the Alliance gets next weekend and beyond. A number of people who tuned in for curiosity sake might not be back.

For me, I don’t need any more football at this time of the year. Once the Super Bowl is played, my sporting thoughts turn to the stretch run of the NHL season, the upcoming NCAA Tournament and the beginning of baseball season.

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