The death of the AAF
author: jacob nelson | staff writer
At least the original XFL finished a season
How the fresh new league ceased operations before their season concluded
After a short eight weeks, the Alliance of American Football has suspended all football operations. While the league is willing to start back up again under new investment, it seems unlikely that any investor is going to be willing to take the plunge.
So, if we can safely assume that the AAF is done, what is the reasoning? Sure, sport leagues fold all the time, but its not like the AAF had terrible ratings. Turner Television even signed a mid-season contract extension to televise two more games because ratings were higher than expected.
It is not as if the league didn’t have talent on their rosters. Yes, there were players who washed out of the NFL, but they were all still relatively young, and fresher than ever. After week one, fans already got a taste of how intense the league was going to be when San Antonio Linebacker Shaan Washington absolutely lit up San Diego Quarterback Mike Bercovici, sending the QB’s helmet three yards in the opposite direction. The stadiums themselves were all relatively full compared to a lot of professional sports like the NBA or MLB.
But if it wasn’t ratings, entertainment value, or attendance that killed the AAF did?
Maybe we should be asking macho-man investor Tom Dundon. After all, as the controlling owner of the league, Dundon was the one who made the call to cease football operations. According to Tadd Haislop of Sporting News, Dundon blamed the NFL Players Association for the collapse of the AAF. Dundon had been in talks with the NFLPA about using young NFL players still developing, in the AAF and made it clear that without this agreement the AAF would have no potential future.
“If the players’ union is not going to give us young players, we can’t be a development league,” Dundon said.
Although these views were not shared with the co-founders of the AAF, Charlie Ebersol and Bill Polian, it was Dundon with majority control, so there was nothing anyone could do.
Dundon, the owner of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, stepped in on February 19, 2019 to help keep the AAF afloat after week two payroll issues. Initially committing $250 million in February, The AAF only saw about 30 per cent of that, or $70 million, but the time April came around.
Many believe that it was Dundon’s inexperience in running a league that caused the downfall, and that it became a lot more expensive than he initially thought. If that’s the case, then why are the Hurricanes considered a successful sports franchise? You would think the owner of a professional sports team would have a much better understanding then most about how to run a sports league.
Whether its lack of young talent or lack of funds, we will probably never get an answer from the notoriously quiet businessman. So, I think that’s why a lot of people have shifted there focus from Dundon to the NFLPA. After all it was the failed negotiations that Dundon said was the reason for the AAF ceasing operations. The NFLPA made it very clear that they weren’t going to let any of their players participate in the AAF if they were under NFL contract. An anonymous source from the NFLPA spoke with USA Today about why they felt player lending was a bad idea.
The source stated, “The players’ union is founded on the belief that using active NFL players and practice squad members for the AAF would violate the terms of the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) and the restrictions that prevent teams from holding mandatory workouts and practices throughout the offseason. The limitations set in place are designed to ensure the safety and adequate rest and recovery time for football players. But there’s a concern that teams would abuse their power and perhaps force young players into AAF action as a condition for consideration for NFL roster spots in the fall.”
“The additional concern on the NFLPA’s part is that if an NFL player played in the AAF and suffered serious injury, that player would face the risk of missing an NFL season and lose a year of accrued experience, which carries financial ramifications for players.”
When you put it like that it makes sense. The NFLPA has a mandate to protect the best interests of its players; this is why some offseason workouts are voluntary and not required. After six months of taking punishing hits from players with almost superhuman speed and strength, peoples bodies tend to start breaking down.
While NFL teams only looked at the safety of their stars, the backups are viewed as expendable for the most part. So, if the teams were not going to look out for their players, the NFLPA will.
However, isn’t that such a stupid excuse to fold a league? Why put $70 million into a league thinking it will only workout if you can get young NFL players? There are thousands of athletes across the country willing put in work day and night to compete professionally in the sport of football. There are hundreds of schools with football programs across North America and only 253 players form those programs are going to be selected in the NFL. Sure, many more will try to make a team’s roster through training camp, but it isn’t physically possible for NFL teams to accept every hard-working player that wants a spot.
I think Dundon’s reasoning for folding the league was a sort of cop-out; a source told Pro Football Talk that, “Dundon signed on to kick the tires. Once he realized how expensive it was to own and operate a sports league, he initially tried to cut costs. But that resulted in a cutting of functionality. He then pinned the league’s future to a deal with the NFL for permission to borrow its bottom-of-roster players.”
I don’t like business and sports mixing, but without it we wouldn’t have the massive sporting entertainment industry we do today. I also need football to watch when the NFL ends, so here’s to hoping a group of affluent investors step in to revive the AAF.