Nearly a week after the Alliance of American Football imploded, no one has explained why it’s gone. Indeed, other than a Friday night apology posted on the defunct league’s Twitter page and some general comments from co-founder Bill Polian that shed no light on the “why”, no one has provided an official explanation as to what happened.
Peter King of Football Morning in America officially calls for that official explanation, either from co-founder Charlie Ebersol or from majority owner Tom Dundon. (Polian also could provide that explanation.)
“Someone needs to step up and explain why the league, which was talking about a multi-year gestation period, died after eight weeks,” King writes.
With or without an official explanation, the unofficial explanation seems to be rooted in common sense: The AAF wasn’t able to raise enough money to fund a full season of football, and the AAF decided to embark on its inaugural season in the apparent hope that, once billionaires with money to burn saw the product, cash would fall from the trees.
So why did the AAF start the year without enough cash in hand to finish it? The AAF had few choices. The options at that point either were to abort or to shout, “Damn the torpedoes!”
It clearly wasn’t supposed to be this way. Appearing last year on #PFTPM, Charlie Ebersol painted an unmistakable picture of a league that would not be lacking in cash.
“We’re funded as a professional sports league,” Ebersol said at the time, specifically in response to a question about the travel expenses associated with having the fledgling league’s eight teams spread from Orlando to San Diego. “That’s the type of question you ask about people who are trying to self-fund it or garage-band-build a sports league. When you’re building a professional league with big partners with deep pockets with institutional capital and big partners like CBS, you’re looking at a larger opportunity than . . . whether or not we’re going to be able to afford flying players around.”
Ultimately, the pockets weren’t nearly deep enough, which caused the AAF to unintentionally fall into one of the specific categories from which the AAF had hoped to distinguish itself.
“I think one of the challenges of launching a spring league more than anything else is the number of either disingenuous attempts that have happened or nonprofessional versions or individuals trying to get their rocks off by owning a sports league as opposed to people who have actually built sports leagues for decades who are coming in to do this,” Ebersol said. “We’re not screwing around. . . . Certainly, we’re building an operation that is built by professionals who have done this for a living.”
Given what we now know, those remarks seem to be wishful thinking with a dash of braggadocio, aimed at essentially willing the necessary funding into existence. Ultimately, the AAF tried to pull it off without a full season’s worth of cash on hand, and the AAF made it 80 percent of the way toward completing a regular season.
Frankly, the fact that Ebersol held it together for so long is admirable. He could have scrapped the season before it began, and he could have folded the tents after the money ran out following only one week of games. At the end of the day, the AAF fought through its scarcity of funding for as long as it could, giving the sports world an eight-week glimpse of what spring football can be.
Whether this means that spring football can ever be viable remains to be seen, beginning with the next non-football-season football league, which arrives in 2020 via the resurrection of the XFL, a league that folded after only one season back in 2001.