The next time I have $250 million and decide to invest in a spring football league, remind me to avoid negotiating in public.
It’s really bad for business.
Tom Dundon, the chairman and controlling owner of the Alliance of American Football, threatened to shudder the first-year league if it can’t develop an official working relationship with the NFL.
The AAF wants the NFL Players Association to OK use of “down roster” players in the spring circuit, but apparently the big leaguers have some reservations about the idea.
“If the players union is not going to give us young players, we can’t be a development league,” Dundon told USA Today in a story published on Wednesday. “We are looking at our options, one of which is discontinuing the league.”
There’s nothing unusual about scorched-earth bargaining (I guess … I’ve never done it), but bargaining in the media is a bit … risky.
So now instead of the major league and the upstart league hammering out things in private, Dundon has made a very public mess of things.
He didn’t just shoot himself in the foot, he took target practice on both legs of the AAF and now anyone talking about the league is talking about everything but football.
This is not helpful.
Alliance co-founders Bill Polian and Charlie Ebersol have made it clear they want the eight-team league to morph into something akin to an NFL farm system, but they also realize these things don’t happen overnight.
Polian said as much during a teleconference earlier this month.
“We have had no specific talks with the NFL on that subject, but lots of NFL people have bandied about that thought with us,” said Polian, who served as general manager for three NFL teams and has been involved in professional football for more than 40 years. “We all talk about it, but there have been no formal discussions about it at this point. I think there’s enough discussion about it that those discussions are going to continue. Whether or not it bears fruit remains to be seen.
“There are a lot of procedural hurdles that have to be crossed before you can make that happen, but the talk is ramping up, I’ll say that.”
From everything I could tell, Polian and Ebersol were doing things the right way. As a fan of the league, I appreciated the fact that they were willing to walk before trying to run.
Dundon, though – owner of the NHL Carolina Hurricanes and majority owner of TopGolf – wanted to go into a full sprint and get a deal struck yesterday.
It didn’t happen, so he threatened to pull the plug and make those of us who believe in the league believe in it a little less.
As of this writing, the Alliance is still alive and all games are a go for this weekend. Orlando plays at Memphis and San Diego travels to Salt Lake today, while on Sunday it’s Atlanta at Birmingham and Arizona going to San Antonio.
It’s a bit worrisome (at least to me) that the league hasn’t commented or attempted to clarify Dundon’s comments via Twitter or on its website, but perhaps nothing has been cleared up yet.
Many coaches in the league have shrugged off the talk as just that, and Birmingham City Councilor William Parker told WBRC TV he thinks the Birmingham Iron and the rest of the Alliance have plenty of life left.
“The Alliance of American Football needs the NFL,” he said. “The NFL needs the Alliance of American Football. It’s posturing. I look forward to the fact that all parties will be sitting down.”
Ah, but the NFL doesn’t need the Alliance at all while ultimately – if it wants to last – the Alliance might very well need the lifeline the NFL can provide.
Yet while Polian and Ebersol are willing to build a relationship over time, Dundon wants to force one right now. And for a guy whose league hasn’t even completed its first season to give the NFL an ultimatum, well, it’s akin to a minnow threatening a shark.
Personally, I’d love to see the AAF and NFL form an official partnership.
But even if they don’t, I still think there’s a place for an informal developmental league. I realize the AAF is not yet a polished product but I’ve enjoyed it, and it’s given a lot of pretty good football players the chance to keep making money playing the game they love.
And some of the guys you see in this league will get another shot at the NFL in the fall; a few will even turn that opportunity into a roster spot.
Let’s hope cooler heads prevail and Dundon steps back and allows the Alliance’s football people to make all the football decisions.
He might own most of the league, but there won’t be a league to own if he can’t learn to work and play well with others.
And to negotiate in private.