The primary goal of those involved in the Alliance of American Football is not to revolutionize the game, but to find a place in it for themselves.
So when the Arizona Hotshots play the Salt Lake Stallions Sunday night, we’ll see the usual amounts of blocking, tackling, running and passing.
But the AAF also is a football laboratory of sorts. Experiments will be conducted by the fledgling league, and who knows, some of what works might one day be adopted by the NFL and colleges.
Baseball, hockey and other sports have tested rules changes at the minor-league level, but football hasn’t had that same level of ability since 2007, when NFL Europe folded.
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Here are the main unique rules and game management tweaks the AAF will employ this season, and corresponding thoughts from Hotshots coach Rick Neuheisel and general manager Phil Savage.
Eye in the sky
– A ninth member of the officiating crew called the “Skyjudge” will be in the press box to review issues with player safety as well as pass interference in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter.
This official will have a camera view that shows all 22 players on the field. Conceivably, a Skyjudge could have overturned the lack of a pass-interference call that helped the Rams beat the Saints in the NFC Championship Game this year.
“I bet it’s something that we see ultimately find its way to the NFL,” Savage said. “You’re talking about a camera over the top of the players capturing the all-22 (video). It’s the ultimate eye-in-the-sky. I think it’s something that’s going to be really innovative.”
Going for two
– There are no extra points. Teams must go for two after every touchdown. Field goals are still allowed during regulation play but not overtime.
“There’s definitely going to be some different scores than we’re accustomed to,” Savage said. “The two-point plays, usually you only have to have a pocket full of those. Now, you have to have a season’s worth.”
Not just for kicks
– There are no kickoffs. Teams will take possession at their 25-yard line at the start of the halves and after scores.
Studies have shown the kickoff is the most dangerous play in the sport, and the NFL has considered eliminating them. We will get to see how that looks in AAF games.
– With no kickoffs, there are no onside kicks. But there are onside conversions.
A team trailing by at least 17 points can try a conversion, and both teams can do it inside five minutes left in a game.
To keep the ball, a team trying a conversion must convert a fourth-and-12 from its own 28. If it succeeds, it keeps the ball.
“They basically added another offensive and defensive snap,” Savage said. “There is some strategy involved. How about a scenario where you’re backed up on your own goal line, it’s late in the game and you’re down four. Step out of the end zone, you give up the two points, and now it’s 4th and 12 from the 28, and you still have to score a touchdown (to win).”
In a preseason game, San Diego successfully converted twice and quickly turned around a one-sided game, Neuheisel said.
“Eventually, it’s going to happen,” Neuheisel said of eliminating kickoffs. “We’re just the first to do it.”
Equal overtime opportunity
– In overtime, each team will get the ball once, at the 10-yard line.
Field goals aren’t allowed, only touchdowns and conversions. If the game is tied after that, it ends in a tie. “We’re not afraid of ties,” Mike Pereira, a consultant for the AAF, told The Associated Press. “It creates some excitement.”
Pace of play
– Games will be shorter. The goal is to average 2½ hours in length, about 30 minutes less than the NFL.
The play clock will be set at 35 seconds, five fewer than in the NFL. Eliminating kickoffs will save time, as will fewer video reviews and shorter television timeouts.
“Here’s what you’re going to feel,” Neuheisel said. “You’re going to feel like, ‘Holy smokes, they’re back to playing fast.’ Don’t get up because this is going to move. That, to me, was eye-opening.”
The AAF played four exhibition games during training camp in San Antonio, and the pace of the games was noticeably faster.
“Those games ended at 2½ hours. Every single one of them,” Savage said. “I think fans will enjoy that because you don’t have to devote a whole day to watching a football game.”
Follow Kent Somers on Twitter @kentsomers