Dallas billionaire Tom Dundon, who came into the Alliance of American Football as a sugar daddy, was instead packing poison.
And now, the Alliance of American Football is as good as dead.
Technically the AAF “suspended operations” today and didn’t officially fold, but there’s a sense of finality to it.
My heart breaks for all the folks who lost their jobs, and for a league that I thought had at least a puncher’s chance to hang around for a few years.
In the lead up to the Alliance’s launch, I took the standard “wait-and-see” attitude. As I’ve said countless times before I want any honest business to succeed, and as someone who has an affinity for underdogs and upstarts, I hoped for the best.
And for a while, that’s what I thought I was getting from the first major spring football venture since the 2001 XFL.
Co-founders Bill Polian (40 years of pro football experience) and Charlie Ebersol had a plan for sustainability that ultimately included building a relationship with the NFL: it was just going to take patience.
Dundon (zero years of pro football experience) had no patience, and wanted to rush the big league into a partnership it wasn’t yet ready for.
He became the AAF chairman and controlling owner, and all decisions going forward were his to make – unilaterally.
“I am extremely disappointed to learn Tom Dundon has decided to suspend all football operations of the Alliance of American Football,” Polian said in a statement released earlier today. “When Mr. Dundon took over, it was the belief of my co-founder, Charlie Ebersol, and myself that we would finish the season, pay our creditors, and make the necessary adjustments to move forward in a manner that made economic sense for all. The momentum generated by our players, coaches and football staff had us well positioned for future success.
“Regrettably, we will not have that opportunity.”
Certainly, there were some dull games – any video of last week’s 8-3 debacle between Salt Lake and San Diego should be destroyed and never spoken of again – but that’s to be expected for a first-year league.
Sometimes growing pains can be painful for viewers, too.
But in terms of presentation and mission, the Alliance looked like it was hitting all the right notes.
I was thrilled that my hometown, Birmingham, was back in the pro football biz and hopeful that maybe – just maybe – the AAF would be more than a flash in the pan.
Enter Dundon, whose $250 million investment was supposed to solidify the league and give it some wiggle room as it went through the various challenges that come with starting a business from scratch.
However, things went south almost from the moment Dundon became chairman.
Once he went public with his threat to fold the league if a formal working agreement couldn’t be reached with the NFL, my enthusiasm for it hit low ebb.
Instead of looking forward to Birmingham playing its first pro football playoff game since its Canadian Football League season of 1995, I was wondering if there’d even be a playoff.
Was last week’s game against Atlanta at Legion Field the team’s last?
Why yes, it almost certainly was.
The Birmingham Iron finished 5-3 and runners-up to the Orlando Apollos in the Eastern Conference.
Orlando finished with the league’s best record at 7-1 so if you want to crown them champions, go ahead and do that.
Not sure it’s much of a consolation, though.
Of course the ominous news brought the trolls out in full force. Instead of just ignoring the Alliance (which is what I do when things don’t interest me) they couldn’t wait to dance on its grave and make jokes.
But there’s nothing funny to players and coaches that – for the moment – have no games to coach or play.
And it’s downright sad for all the folks who took jobs in the ticket office, public relations department, etc.
These are men and women trying to make a living and now suddenly they’re out of work.
So a league is dead, people are unemployed, and vendors are waiting for money that hasn’t been paid.
Who knew Dundon’s $250 million would be so costly?