The Alliance of American Football is set to kick off on February 9, just days after the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams will compete in Super Bowl LIII. The road to the Super Bowl — for both of these teams — resulted in plenty of ire regarding NFL officiating and rule sets. In these areas, the AAF has the opportunity to learn from the NFL’s mistakes and make the AAF rules better and fairer than the NFL’s.
AAF Rules: An Off-season Balm for Downtrodden NFL Fans
The most glaring rule change in the AAF is the total elimination of the kickoff. When the ball is meant to change hands, either at the beginning of a half, after a score or during overtime, teams will automatically begin with the ball at their own 25-yard line.
The kickoff is one of the most dangerous plays in modern football, but the league insists on keeping it around for the time being, despite an increasingly fervent conversation surrounding player safety.
In the AFC Championship Game, Julian Edelman appeared to muff a punt, which the Kansas City Chiefs ostensibly recovered. After much deliberation and speculation from the announcing crew, the call was overturned.
— Kevin Boilard (@247KevinBoilard) January 21, 2019
The AAF seems to be holding on to the punt for now, as several teams have punters listed on their rosters. But kickoffs and punts both suffer from the same kind of player-unfriendly recovery demonstrated by Edelman in the AFC Championship, although kickoffs arguably at a lower rate. The elimination of the kickoff will significantly reduce the frequency of controversy that possession-change kick recoveries bring about.
Eliminating the Extra Point
There are few things more heartbreaking than a missed extra point. For so long, the extra point was a “gimme” point to put the cherry on top of a touchdown. Unfortunately, the PAT was a “gimme” for so long that people react too strongly when it goes wrong. When Adam Vinatieri missed the extra point in the fourth quarter of the Divisional Round matchup against the Chiefs, Colts fans flocked to Twitter to condemn one of the greatest kickers to ever play the game.
The AAF has eliminated the extra point kick from their game. Instead, teams have to go for two after every touchdown, a much better indicator of a team’s offensive prowess and playcalling. By eliminating the extra point from the game, the AAF is saving potential fans the heartbreak of losing a game because of a seemingly insignificant and automatic score.
Eliminating the Onside Kick
The AAF has also eliminated the onside kick from its game. If a team wants to retain possession during what would normally be a change-of-possession kick, they have one try to gain ten yards from their own 35-yard line. If they fail to make the yardage, the other team gets possession of the ball where they fail.
The NFL introduced a new rule this season that rendered the onside kick completely obsolete. The percentage of onside kicks recovered by the kicking team dropped from 21.7 percent in 2017 to 7.5 percent in 2018.
This heavily contributed to the Dallas Cowboys decision to kick the ball deep down eight points with two minutes left to play against the Rams in the Divisional Round. They were forced to gamble on their defense being able to force a punt because of the onside kick rule change. As a result, the Cowboys saw an early exit from this year’s playoffs.
Reducing Advertising Time
According to an article by Chris Brantner of Streaming Observer, the average NFL fan watched 24 hours worth of advertising this season. That’s a horrendous amount of advertising. For both television and streaming audiences (an audience that grew by 65 percent this season, according to the NFL), the constant advertising blast means the ad nauseam repetition of the same ads. Streaming audiences often get the brunt of this because streaming platforms are not necessarily beholden to the same contracts with regional advertisers, meaning that ad breaks often feature the exact same ad spots from national corporations over and over.
Compounding this issue is the presence of television timeouts, forced ad breaks that slow down gameplay to rake in revenue for the network. These unnecessary timeouts cause NFL games to drag on three or more hours and have sometimes prevented audiences from seeing replays, the results of official reviews, or plays themselves.
While this is not necessarily a rule change to the game itself, the AAF has vowed to include no television timeouts during games. This should ease some of the advertising fatigue that NFL fans are sure to be feeling after the unsettling advertising joust of the league’s biggest game.
Not All Sunshine and Roses
There is one rule change that is sure to have AAF fans up in arms this season. Each coach gets two challenges per game. These challenges are the only opportunities for replays, with the exception of automatic replays in overtime and the final two minutes of each half.
While this seems like another attempt by the AAF to keep the game moving and reduce overall game time, there is good and bad to this decision. If a referee misses a call on the field or makes an incorrect call, there is extremely limited recourse to correct the mistake, a factor that can change the entire complexion of a game.
This rule puts serious faith in the AAF’s officiating crews, a decision that may make NFL fans wary. Saints fans, who were on the receiving end of some horrible officiating resulting in the loss of the NFC Championship game, may be particularly wary of such an overreliance on real-time refereeing decisions.
On the bright side, the over-deliberation on replays that currently cause NFL games to drag on will be significantly reduced.
Last Word on AAF Rules
We should learn much more about how AAF rules differ from NFL rules in the coming weeks, but the Alliance of American Football seems to be off to an excellent start addressing some of the problems that plague the NFL. Some rules borrowed from the NFL, such as keeping unaffiliated staff on-hand to deal with head injuries, demonstrate that the AAF is willing to take the best parts of their “big brother” league to improve the game. The inclusion of some of professional football’s greats (Troy Polamalu, Hines Ward) and most prominent rules experts (Mike Pereira, Dean Blandino) seems to be paying off for the AAF.
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