And, so, as quickly as it stormed into our lives, the Alliance of American Football (AAF) is dead.
Well, at least it looks that way.
The AAF suspended football operations Tuesday — although its official Twitter account never said anything, leaving it to individual teams to confirm the bad news. While it wasn’t immediately folding, “it’s heading that way,” according to a tweet by ProFootballTalk.
There’s a lot to unpack here.
All signs point to Tom Dundon, owner of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, as being directly responsible for the league’s demise. Dundon, just two weeks into the AAF’s inaugural season, became the league’s new chairman after promising a $250 million investment.
Now, less than two months later, Dundon is apparently cutting his losses after reportedly losing $70 million, which might seem like a lot, but remember, he’s the owner of an NHL franchise and had a net worth of $1.1 billion in 2015, according to Forbes.
This came about a week after Dundon threatened to shut down the AAF if the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) didn’t loan the AAF young, under-NFL contract players — mainly practice squad players — to play in the AAF. The NFLPA, having no reason to cooperate, declined.
There are theories that Dundon never really intended to save the league, which astonishingly needed a quarter-of-a-billion-dollar investment just two weeks into its existence, and only wanted access to a gambling app the league was developing, according to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer.
If Breer’s report is true, which, considering how wacky this entire story is, is entirely possible, then a ton of people got swindled. Not only by Dundon, but by the league’s founders, Charlie Ebersol and Bill Polian, who were clearly nowhere near ready to launch the league from a financial standpoint considering the cash they accepted and control they surrendered after Week 2.
Front office staff, communications personnel, sales representatives, even beer vendors — all out of a job with little notice given. They’re unemployed today because they believed this league would be around until at least the end of its first season, if not beyond that. The AAF, after all, had a “five to seven-year plan,” according to Ebersol.
But they theoretically have time on their side when it comes to finding another job, unlike the other group of people now suddenly out of work — the actual football players.
Football is a young man’s sport — the average NFL career lasts 3.3 years, according to the NFLPA. Or, if you’re willing to believe the NFL, it’s six years. Either way, the window to play professional football is small and it grows smaller for a player every day.
The players who joined AAF teams, like former USF running back D’Ernest Johnson, just want to get paid to play and maybe make it to the NFL.
Johnson, who was with the Orlando Apollos, may have done enough in his short time in the AAF to realize that goal. He sits — or, rather, sat — in second in total rushing yards in the league.
But what about the players that needed more time to prove their worth to NFL teams?
What about the players who, no matter how much they tried, will never be good enough for the NFL?
They put their lives on hold for the belief that, if nothing else, they would get to continue to play the game they love a little while longer and make money doing so.
In the case of Johnson, he was a personal trainer at a YouFit in Gainesville, though he still tried out for various football leagues while doing that. He has a 4-year old son who he’s trying to provide for.
Johnson is a person who was trying to fulfill his dream.
“Getting paid to play football, it’s always been my dream to play in the NFL, but this is one step closer to get to the NFL, I’m just taking a different route,” Johnson told The Oracle in February.
He still wanted the same thing Tuesday.
“I just want to play ball,” Johnson tweeted.
For whatever reason Dundon pulled the plug — whether the Breer report is true or not — it’s shameful how it was done. Johnson and the other AAF players deserved better than to have their season cut short.
Dundon will undoubtedly be called a lot worse things than “a bunch of jerks,” as his Hurricanes were referred to by NHL TV personality Don Cherry for their extravagant postgame celebrations — and deservedly so.
Ebersol and Polian will be remembered as clowns who weren’t anywhere near ready to launch their league — also deservedly so.
The AAF will go down as the biggest failure of a spring football league in history, even more so than the original XFL. Deservedly so.
But, while these three stooges are given the rightful shame they’ve earned, let’s not forget all the people they did wrong, especially the players like Johnson.
They deserved better than this house of cards football league.