It’s really how it’s going to be the same that makes it different. Everyone that’s tried to do this before us has tried to reimagine the game or do whacky stuff. They didn’t focus on the thing that matters the most: quality football.
That was AAF CEO and Co-Founder Charlie Ebersol during Super Bowl week, answering a question on NFL Network about what will set the AAF apart from past leagues. As the XFL has marketed itself around a “reimainged” game, the AAF’s rhetoric has drifted in the opposite direction: we’re going to deliver an NFL-like product.
So I was surprised to read a full list of the rule changes in an article by Commercial Appeal’s Jason Munz. Among the changes are the following that restrict defensive movement.
- On defense, no more than five players may rush on passing plays.
- Players that line up on the line of scrimmage are designated as one of the five players eligible to rush, regardless of whether they rush or not.
- No defensive player may rush from a position of more than two yards outside the widest offensive lineman and more than five yards from the line of scrimmage (defensive pressure box). The exceptions would be play-action or run-pass option plays and if the ball leaves the tackle box.
- Any player who aligns on the line of scrimmage either prior to or at the snap is designated as one of the five players regardless of whether he rushes.
- The penalty for “illegal defense” carries a 15-yard penalty.
The AAF has been keeping this close to the vest, for good reason. Far from a small tweak, restricting defensive movement fundamentally changes the balance between offense and defense. Offense gets to decide when the play starts, but is limited in how they can line up and move. Defense has to react to the snap, but is able to move their players as they see fit.
So why make the change? To his credit, AAF Head of Football Development Hines Ward provided a surprisingly candid answer.
You’ve got to think, most of the offensive linemen in our league, they haven’t seen complex schemes before. We want to be able to evaluate our guys and protect our quarterbacks, while also maintaining the integrity of the game. We didn’t want to overload blitz where we have a corner or a safety coming off the back side where an offensive lineman may just totally miss and they’ve got a free run at our quarterbacks. Maybe year 2, year 3 we can make some changes down the road. But in year 1, let’s just see if they can play and block man-on-man, one-on-one.
The key word here is “evaluate.” As in, we want NFL scouts to be able to evaluate our players.
When the AAF was unveiled, the Ebersol explained that the name and the three stars on the logo represented an alliance between the players, the fans, and the sport. On the eve of its inaugural game, the game is being fundamentally altered, player deficiencies are ostensibly the reason, and it’s being done for the sake of another league.