Football Without End

by John Delach

Superbowl LIII finished with a thud late in the evening (EST) of Sunday, February 3rd. I found the best account inside the pages of National Review in a piece by Kyle Smith written before the game was played.  Early on in his piece, Mr. Smith telegraphed his position on the game by explaining he had ceased drinking for the month of January… “until Satan’s children the New England Patriots won the AFC Championship” forced him to become…” reacquainted with a bottle of Whistlepig Straight Rye.”

Smith continued: “So the Patriots are in the Super Bowl for the 112th consecutive year and will win it for the 77th time. A poll before the match against the Kansas City Chiefs showed every state outside of New England was rooting for the Chiefs except Michigan, where Tom Brady played college ball.”

“Watching the Patriots is a useful lesson in the ingenuity of evil.”

But enough, already. The season is over, and it is time to move on…or is it? Good grief, can’t we have the dead month of February to let go and stand down from our NFL addition?

Apparently not, enter the latest manifestation of a recurring phenomenon, the professional spring football league. This year’s gem wears the moniker: The Alliance of American Football (AAF) and it kicked off its premier season last weekend with two games on Saturday night broadcast on CBS and two more on Sunday, an afternoon game on the CBS Sports Network and a night game on the NFL Network. Other games will also appear on TNT and B/R Live, a streaming service.

Eight teams in two divisions; Atlanta Legends, Birmingham Iron, Memphis Express and Orlando Apollos in the Eastern Conference and Arizona Hotshots, Salt Lake Stallions, San Antonio Commanders and San Diego Fleet in the Western Conference. Each team is scheduled to play ten regular season games. Four teams will make the playoffs with the Championship game to be played on April 27, the final day of the 2019 NFL draft.

Charles Ebersol, son of Dick Ebersol, is the bullish co-founder of the AAF. He believes that the AAF will succeed where others failed because of legal sports gambling. “He’s hoping to land in a right-place-right-time moment in which sports betting is now legal and expanding in the United States.”

Joe Drape reported for The New York Times: “Eight states already offer gambling on sports contests and by next year, sports betting could be legal in at least a dozen more.”

“Among the AAF’s early investors (is) the gambling and entertainment powerhouse MGM Resorts International. ‘It’s a technology play,’ Scott Buttera, MGM president for interactive gaming said of the AAF.

“MGM executives said they were most taken by the AAF’s app. which can provide a host of data in milliseconds. The information arrives so fast…that it could eventually allow in-game betting on play outcomes – like pass or run and a host of other propositions.”

All well and good, but ratings and even home attendance will still determine the success or failure of the AAF. The number of people who gamble on the games doesn’t matter at all if fans don’t tune in. In my opinion, Ebersole’s business plan is ass-backward. Without ratings, the betting action on the games is meaningless.

The track record for professional spring leagues is awful. Since the NFL-AFL merger in the mid- 1960s four different spring leagues have been launched with the following results:

The World Football League (WFL) created in 1974, failed in 1975.

The United States Football League (USFL) came next in 1983. The USFL completed two spring seasons then announced a fall schedule in 1985 to directly compete with the NFL. Instead, the USFL sued the NFL for monopolistic practices. A Brooklyn jury found the NFL guilty, but a single juror manipulated the other seven jurors to limit damages to one dollar. She fibbed that the judge could change the amount if he wished. He can but only downward. (The amount was multiplied to three dollars for treble damages.)

Next, the XFL for one year in 2001 and the United Football League (UFL), 2009-2012.

Hope and / or greed must spring eternal as in addition to the AAF, another new entrant, the eight-team American Patriot League (APL) is planned for this spring playing from April 6 to June 23.

Insanity rules supreme, in 2020, Vince McMahon, plans to re-launch his WWE’s XF,

a complete failure the last time around. Will the madness ever end?  

Football without end, Amen.