No Tackles? No Problem. The American Flag Football League is Coming for the NFL
And, thanks to technology, no one will be counting Mississippis.
Already plagued by reduced ratings, concussion concerns and anthem arguments, the NFL is facing a potential challenge from another competitive football league – and this one has nothing to do with Vince McMahon.
The brainchild of former hedge fund manager Jeff Lewis, the American Flag Football League is announcing its presence via a single-elimination tournament that will run from March through July on fields in Texas, Florida, Ohio, New York and everywhere in between.
Dubbed “The U.S. Open of Football,” the seven-round tourney is kicking off this weekend in Austin and will feature 128 “amateur” teams made up of male and female athletes who applied to play as individuals or as part of a group via the AFFL’s website.
Teams have a max of 12 players each and, unlike in the NFL and NCAA, members will play on both offense and defense during the course of 7-on-7 action. If it isn’t obvious, in the AFFL, tackling is sent the way of the dodo.
Here’s an explainer on the rules:
After the field of 128 in the U.S. Open tournament has been whittled down to one, that team, America’s Champion, will face off against the “pro” team that successfully emerges from a separate four-team tournament.
The final rosters haven’t been set, but the quartet of pro teams will all feature athletes like ex-NFLers Michael Vick, Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson and Justin Forsett, ex-NBAers Nate Robinson and Carlos Boozer, and Olympic champ Michael Johnson (some of whom participated in the AFFL’s first exhibition game in June 2017.)
The team that wins the championship game, which is set to take place on July 19 in Houston and will be broadcast on the NFL Network, will take home $1,000,000 in prize money.
Not a bad payday – and also not an easy one.
Though the 128 teams battling to become America’s Champion are classified as “amateur,” there are going to be a fair number of elite athletes among their ranks.
“You’re going to see a lot of arena football guys on the field,” Lewis told RealClearLife. “The arena players are phenomenal athletes and you’re going to see them on a grander stage where I think they’ll show really well.”
However, those arena league players aren’t the only ex-pros who will be suiting up in the AFFL. “If you’re over 18 years old, you could apply,” Lewis said. “There are quite a few people who have NFL experience. Canadian League. Pro basketball. Pro rugby. There are a lot of athletes out there who are happy to have the opportunity.”
Lewis came up with the idea for the AFFL after being blown away by an incredibly athletic play at the goal line is his son Hayden’s flag football game (“watching third graders play most sports isn’t always that entertaining”) and started doing some research. What he found is that, in market terms, there’s a more than adequate supply of pro-level athletes to make competition in a flag football league compelling.
“The NFL [player] has very short average career and the league has this incredible turnover every year of 800 or 900 players who have their name on their back in August and not in October,” Lewis said. “With other sports, there are lots of other places to play. For football, there aren’t a lot of spots to play and they don’t pay that well, outside of the NFL. You’re going to see a mixture that ranges from guys who played in the NFL to guys who haven’t played since high school and everyone in between.”
Due to the lack of tackling, the AFFL won’t offer the bloodlust-satisfying blindside hits that the NFL sometimes does, but it will provide the scoring plays the fantasy football crowd has come to love.
“An Odell Beckham catch, an Aaron Rodgers hail mary, the play at the end of this year’s Vikings/Saints playoff game … all these things can happen in our game,” Lewis said. “Those plays are all there to be made, they’re just going to end differently.”
As such, given the talent pool and anticipated level of play, Lewis believes it won’t take much for an NFL fan to become a supporter of the AFFL.
“It really is the essence of football,” he said. “We’re playing 7-on-7 because that’s how the top college and professional teams train. If you airlift the 300-pound guys off the field, the guys who are left are the ones who are playing our game.”
And they’ll be out there this weekend in Austin. Roger Goodell, you may want to take notice.