The Alliance of American Football may not be able to survive for another season if it doesn’t get some help from the NFL Players Association, according to AAF majority owner Tom Dundon.
Dundon, the Carolina Hurricanes owner who has pledged to invest up to $250 million in the AAF, says that the spring football league needs the support of the NFLPA in allowing young players on NFL rosters to gain experience in what he hopes can be a developmental league.
Fan Support Not Enough to Save AAF, Dundon Says
The AAF is currently seven weeks into its first season, which features eight teams divided into two conferences. The plan is to hold a 10-game regular season, with the league’s championship game scheduled to take place at the Dallas Cowboys’ practice facility in Frisco, Texas on April 27.
While the league hasn’t exactly shocked the world when it comes to attendance or television ratings, the AAF has managed to garner a fair amount of attention, with games attracting an average of 15,000 fans. Three teams even set new attendance highs in Week 7, including the San Antonio Commanders, who announced a crowd of 30,345 – the highest yet for any team.
But despite those encouraging numbers, Dundon says that the league won’t have a future if it can’t count on getting younger NFL prospects to join its rosters.
“If the players’ union is not going to give us young players, we can’t be a development league,” Dundon told USA Today. “We are looking at our options, one of which is discontinuing the league.”
Alliance officials would like to see borderline NFL talents participate in their league. That could include practice squad players and third-string quarterbacks, the kinds of players who might benefit most from time in a developmental organization and would be unlikely to get playing time on an NFL team.
Union Has Concerns Over Sharing Young Players
But the USA Today report cited an unnamed official from the players’ union who said that the NFLPA had several serious concerns when it came to allowing NFL players to participate in the AAF.
One of the most serious issues is the idea that NFL teams might pressure young players into getting experience in the AAF in the spring if they wanted a better chance of making the NFL roster in the fall. In addition, allowing NFL players to play in the spring league could violate the terms of the NFLPA’s collective bargaining agreement, which limits the amount of practice and workouts players can participate in during the offseason.
There’s also the worry that players could get hurt in the AAF, costing them time and money in their NFL careers.
Those worries could change if the Alliance was able to position itself as an official minor league for the NFL, an arrangement that would almost certainly include significant protection for players who played while under contract with a “big league” team, just like in baseball. But while the two leagues have a fairly solid working relationship, there is no official connection between the two at this time, and the NFL has not invested any money in the AAF.