WILL NEW PRO FOOTBALL LEAGUES HELP OR HURT NFL?
It was less than two weeks since Super Bowl LIII and already pro football fans are hungry for more of the country’s most popular sport. And they got it too, in a double dose. Last weekend the newly formed eight-team Alliance of American Football kicked off its 10-game season successfully while the XFL was actively on the drawing board to kick off in 2020. The goal of both leagues is to modify some of the NFL rules that seem a little fuzzy and see if that will help speed up the game. The ultimate goal of the AAF is to play games in 2½ hours which is about 30 minutes shorter than the average NFL game. In addition, the AAF will cut the halftimes down to 13 minutes, have three-minute breaks between quarters, one-minute stoppages after punts, PATs and timeouts and a “sky judge” with the power to overrule officiating errors, according to Saturday’s edition of the Houston Chronicle. The new league has also eliminated kickoffs which should save plenty of time because more than 50 per cent of kickoffs have penalties occurring for either holding or blocking in the back, using a 35-second play clock and limits on pass rushing with no more than five defensive players rushing on a given play and no blitzing by defensive backs. But I noticed on Saturday night’s opening game on CBS at the Alamodome between the San Antonio Commanders and the San Diego Fleet that the quarterbacks took some vicious hits which is probably what the fans really want. Not a single touchdown was made in the home team’s 15-6 victory. The eight-team league will play 10-game schedules with the top four teams making the playoffs. Other AAF franchises are located in Birmingham, Orlando, Arizona, Salt Lake City, Memphis and Atlanta. The league title game will be April 27 in Las Vegas. A major change occurs on overtime periods with a maximum of two possessions per team with one series of downs on each possession starting on the 10-yard line with NO field goals. Games can end in a tie. The XFL’s commissioner Oliver Luck, a former Houston Oilers quarterback, will be scrutinizing the AAF’s game with a fine-tooth comb to see if some of his league’s rules may need tweaking. Although the XFL is reluctant to disclose most of its proposed changes, the league plans to use a 25-30 second play clock to ensure an up-tempo game. It will also add an eighth official to spot the football and a ninth in the TV production truck to enforce penalties on significant violations missed by the field officials, the Chronicle pointed out. Luck said that the XFL wants to develop a way to keep kicks and kick returns. He said the league has also devised a unique overtime plan and a dozen other tweaks that likely will be announced once he clears then with the league’s eight head coaches as they are hired over the next month. The first league coach to be hired by the XFL is former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops who will guide the Dallas-Forth Worth franchise which will use Globe Life Park in Arlington. Other teams and stadiums include New York (Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.), Los Angeles (StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.), Seattle (CenturyLink Field), St. Louis (Dome of America’s Center), Tampa (Raymond James Stadium) and Washington, D.C. (Audi Field). Teams will begin to sign players this fall and Luck said the XFL will provide a roster spot for some “who might be a little too small or too short or too unfocused” for the NFL. There will be no player’s union, but the league has not disclosed salary issues other than to say quarterbacks will be paid about $250,000 per season. KWICKIES…Last weekend’s Houston Chronicle had a mock NFL draft and listed former West Orange-Stark and Alabama All-American free safety Deionte Thompson as the 21st player taken in the first round by the Seattle Seahawks. That really makes sense, too, because Head Coach Pete Carroll knows what caliber free safeties are groomed by Mustangs’ coach Cornel Thompson, like five-time NFL All-Pro Earl Thomas. And speaking of Earl Thomas, he is one of two Orange County NFL players without a job for 2019 yet, as he was joined recently by Bridge City’s 43-year-old kicker Matt Bryant. I believe Bryant will probably find a new team first because he was released from his contract by the Atlanta Falcons while Earl must wait for his contract to expire the middle of next month. And on a personal note, my grandson Logan Smith of Lufkin Hudson begins his third year as a pitcher with the Army Black Knights’ baseball team. The West Pointers are scheduled to play in the annual LSU Round-Robin tournament this weekend. Army opens with a game against Air Force Friday at noon, takes on the hosting Tigers Saturday at 1 p.m. and finishes Sunday with a game against Louisiana-Monroe. Logan has yet to suffer a loss in his first two years on the mound for the Black Knights. While on the subject of college baseball, the Lamar Cardinals were picked to finish eighth in the Southland Conference this spring after finishing tied for tenth last season with a 13-17 SLC record. It took five days but Phil Mickelson is the winner of the PGA Tour AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Lefty was leading by three strokes Sunday when darkness halted play after the 16th hole. Mickelson maintained his lead and won Monday morning. JUST BETWEEN US…Major league baseball camps are opening this week in either Florida or Arizona, with the Oakland A’s the first to work out on Monday. The Houston Astros are still looking for two starting pitchers to complete their five-man rotation and are still trying to coax unsigned lefthander Dallas Keuchel back into the fold. Several big names are still on the market including Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Craig Kimbrel, Astros super-sub Marwin Gonzalez and several others.