D.A.: The AAF Threatening To Fold Is A Mistake

Scare tactic? Power play? Whatever it is, Tom Dundon is taking an unnecessary risk 

Damon Amendolara
March 27, 2019 - 4:31 pm

Perhaps this is all a power play, a stiff arm of the opponent in the direction you need them to go. This may be an intelligent, savvy businessman manipulating the news like a puppet master. The AAF could have the perfect leader behind the wheel, and this moment will be written about in history books of the wildly successful startup league. 

But it sure feels much worse. 

Tom Dundon, the white knight with the bags of cash, told USA Today that he's considering folding the league. He even suggested a decision could be made in the coming days. This seems ludicrous. It was a mere six weeks ago that the Carolina Hurricanes owner jumped in with an infusion of money to put the league on stable financial footing. Reports are the $250M he invested did not come in one lump sum, but instead as individual payments which could be stopped at any time. But within a month-and-a-half Dundon would go from "impressed" and "stunned" by the league's potential growth to putting it on ice? Even for our modern society that seems like a rash decision at warp speed. 

The reason Dundon is floating this is because of a lack of agreement with the NFLPA. The Alliance has always desired to become the NFL's developmental league with the hope of using practice squad players and third-string quarterbacks. Apparently the NFLPA hasn't played ball with Dundon. But that's no reason to pull the plug on the new league... yet. 

As I've written about before, the AAF has plenty of ways it stands on its own already. The action has been better than even its harshest critics could have predicted. Transparent officiating reviews, allowing defensive players to hit the quarterback, and the speedy pace are all refreshing alternatives to the NFL. The league's social media accounts are fun and youthful, unlike the NFL's bland PR missives. Mandatory two-point conversions, no kickoffs, and fourth-and-long instead of onside kicks have worked brilliantly. There's real interest in Orlando and San Antonio for their teams. Not only have I really enjoyed spring football filling up some gloomy sports weekends, the freshness of the league has been eye-opening. 

Has the attendance been great across the league? No. But the league had to prepare for life beyond the first year when it was created. It's run by football people like Bill Polian and business people like Charlie Ebersol. They couldn't have assumed they'd figure it all out within two months. The guess here is that Dundon has wanted to make some big waves in the national consciousness, and this is just another. He did interviews after "saving the league" in February, manipulated Johnny Manziel into the league's shakiest market, and now is dredging up a public battle with the NFLPA. There must be a method to the headlines. 

The NFL would love to have a developmental league. It allows the league to groom players, coaches, and staffers. It fills the calendar with even more football, and pushes content for NFL media. The NFL's website has carried stories on the AAF, and the NFL Network broadcasts games. So Dundon already knows he has a silent ally with the NFL. He's likely stirring up a PR battle with an entity that hasn't played ball with him. He probably wants the public pressure to push the NFLPA into agreeing on some key points, and is dangling the end of the AAF as a scare tactic. 

Another football league can only be a good thing for the NFLPA. It would give its bottom tier members opportunities at playing time like Charles Johnson, and developing some notoriety like Garrett Gilbert. It can be a redemption house for Trent Richardson, and a training ground for fringe draft picks. I have to imagine Dundon is doing this to force pressure from the players on the union to make it work. But threatening to end the league before the playoffs have even been played? That could go south in a hurry and make the public emotionally check out as baseball season begins and the NBA playoffs open.

We thought Dundon's purchase of the league was the best thing that could happen, but how much control did they cede? If Dundon's right about this bet, the AAF will get a big win. If he's wrong and flushes the league down the toilet before the end of the regular season? They would have bought their date with the devil. 

Damon Amendolara, known by his fans as D.A., hosts “The D.A. Show,” from 9:00AM-12:00PM, ET, across the country on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. “The D.A. Show” is known for its unique perspective on sports, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, colorful listener interaction, and candid interviews with athletes and coaches. Amendolara also appears regularly on NFL Network as part of the “NFL Top 10” documentary film series, CBS television and SNY TV. He is a Syracuse University grad and native of Warwick, N.Y.