Alliance of American Football 2019 Rules and Format: How They Differ from NFL

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistFebruary 11, 2019

TEMPE, AZ - FEBRUARY 10:  Da'Sean Downey #59 of the Arizona Hotshots catches a touchdown pass over Micah Hannemann #27 of the Salt Lake Stallions during the second half of the Alliance of American Football game at Sun Devil Stadium on February 10, 2019 in Tempe, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/AAF/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/AAF/Getty Images

The Alliance of American Football was created to quench your thirst for football following the Super Bowl, and so far, the product has lived up to expectations. 

The opening weekend received a lot of support, with an overnight rating that beat the NBA, per Darren Rovell of Action Network. With notable players like Trent Richardson and Christian Hackenberg taking the field and coaches like Steve Spurrier and Mike Singletary on the sidelines, there was a lot to like.

Unlike the old version of the XFL, however, this isn't going to be a radical league full of violence. Instead, most of the rules are similar to the NFL to allow players to transition from one to the other.

"Our whole goal is just to be complementary," player relations executive and former Pittsburgh Steelers star Hines Ward said in September, per Cody Benjamin of CBS Sports. "With our league, it's only going to put out a better product for the NFL. We're giving them extra eyes and extra film."

There are still four 15-minute quarters—with a slightly shorter play clock at 35 seconds instead of 40—with teams still trying to march down the field and score touchdowns. For much of the game, you won't notice too much of a difference between AAF and the NFL.

With that said, there are still some notable rule differences that both make the game exciting and could be trial runs for future changes in the NFL. Here are the biggest changes to the AAF.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

Note: More info available at the league's official site.


No Kickoffs

The start of the AAF game might be the weirdest moment for football fans, as it will begin without a kickoff. There are no kickoffs at all in the league, with teams simply beginning at their own 25-yard line.

Kickoffs have been considered the most dangerous plays in football with the number of head injuries that are created with so many players running full speed. The NFL has considered getting rid of them, but it has instead just made numerous changes to keep things safe.

The AAF has done away with kickoffs altogether, which takes away the chance at a game-changing return, although there were only five kicks returned for touchdowns in the entire 2018 NFL season.

This also removes the possibility of onside kicks, but there is an alternative for a team trailing by 17 or more points in the final five minutes. After a touchdown, a team can attempt a 4th-and-12 play from its own 28-yard line. 

"It was an exciting play in these preseason games," former head of NFL officiating Mike Pereira said, per the Associated Press (via USA Today). "You get one play and if you reach the 40, you keep [the] ball. If not, the ball goes over to the other team. It can be punitive. If you throw an incomplete pass, the receiving team gets the ball at the 28-yard line. At least it gives teams an opportunity."


Extra Points

BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA - FEBRUARY 10:  Nick Novak #9 of Birmingham Iron kicks a field goal during an Alliance of American Football game against the Memphis Express at Legion Field on February 10, 2019 in Birmingham, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/AAF/Getty
Kevin C. Cox/AAF/Getty Images

Kickers are also slighted when it comes to extra points as there are no more kicks after a touchdown.

Instead, all touchdowns are followed by two-point conversion attempts. This will help separate teams as a game progresses, especially in overtime.

While field goals are still part of the game, there will be fewer chances for fans to yell at kickers if their team loses.



Like in college football, both teams will get a chance to score in overtime. Unlike college, overtime will not last forever.

In the AAF rules, each team will get the ball at the 10-yard line with a chance to score a touchdown and a two-point conversion. If the two sides are tied at the end of one session, the game ends in a tie.

After seeing Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs offense fail to touch the ball in overtime of the AFC Championship Game, it's nice to see a more fair system that doesn't come down to the coin toss. On the other hand, the league is keeping games short without drawn-out overtimes that could last hours.


Sky Judge

Sometimes penalties seem more obvious from a distance, which is where the "sky judge" comes into play in the AAF.

The sky judge is a ninth official who is in a press box and has the right to call penalties or tell the referee to pick them up. The official will mostly be used to assess safety-related calls, including helmet-to-helmet hits or blindside shots that are missed by those on the field, although they won't get the benefit of replay, per Gary Myers of the league's official site.

However, the person will also get a chance to rule on pass interference calls in the final five minutes of a game.

Considering how the NFC Championship Game ended between the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams, this could be a difference-maker.


Stricter Defensive Rules

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS - FEBRUARY 09: Shaan Washington #54 of the San Antonio Commanders sacks Mike Bercovici #11 of the San Diego Fleet during the first quarter in an Alliance of American Football game at the Alamodome on February 09, 2019 in San Antonio, Te
Ronald Cortes/AAF/Getty Images

Among the biggest changes to on-field play are the limitations on rushing the passer.

As outlined by Jason Munz of the Memphis Commercial Appeal, no more than five players can rush on a single play. Players also aren't allowed to blitz from more than two yards outside the defensive line or from five yards back of the line of scrimmage.

Finally, players lined up at the line of scrimmage count as rushers, regardless of whether or not they go after the quarterback.

Any violations of these rules will result in a 15-yard penalty for illegal defense.

This will make it safer for quarterbacks and likely give them more time in the pocket, which could create better offensive action. On the other hand, defensive coaches could have a tough time being creative enough to stop top quarterbacks around the league.