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AAF, Arizona Hotshots cease football operations

Arizona Hotshots quarterback John Wolford throws down field against the Salt Lake Stallions in the first half during an AAF football game Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

The Alliance of American Football (AAF) will cease operations on Tuesday, though whether it leads to the first-year league folding remains to be seen.

An email sent to AAF employees confirmed reports that suggested the AAF has played its last game, at least with its current business model, after just eight weeks of action.

The news comes less than a week after AAF majority owner Tom Dundon told USA Today that the NFL Players’ Association’s lack of cooperation in allowing the upstart league to use NFL players put the unaffiliated minor league in danger of folding.

According to Rovell, the operations stoppage comes not due financial reasons.

Co-founders Charlie Ebersol and Bill Polian have disagreed with Dundon’s plans in the month-plus since Dundon earned a majority stake in the AAF by pouring $250 million into the league. Ebersol and Polian expected a multi-year process to develop the league into a working feeder system for the NFL, but Dundon has wanted that process to be more swift.

An anonymous source in the NFL players union told USA Today last week that allowing NFL players to compete in the AAF went against the pro league’s collective bargaining agreement.

Polian put out his own statement confirming the news on Tuesday.

The AAF, an eight-team league in the eighth game of its 10-game inaugural season, didn’t expect to compete with the NFL when it announced its plans last year. Its leaders believed it could fill a void as a minor league where fringe NFL players could earn playing time and continue improving under more vigilant coaching staffs.

“You got these guys who come in, you know they’re not going to make the (NFL) team,” AAF player relations vice president and investor Jared Allen said in May. “They’ve been maybe two to three years in camp, and at what point do you realize you’re doing this guy a disservice? Where has he gotten any reps to think he’ll be better a year later?

“That guy may not feel like he’s completely lived his dream.”

From a marketing standpoint, the AAF wanted to use technology to bring in fan interest, particularly when it came to fantasy football.

Teams were expected to build close bonds with their localities. The roster-building process, for example, bucketed former players from regionally close NFL and college teams to the closest AAF squads.

The Hotshots are also led by McClintock High School product Rick Neuheisel, who attended ASU games growing up. Neuheisel, a quarterback, played in the formerly-defunct USFL and went on to coach at UCLA, Colorado and Washington with a stint in the NFL on the Baltimore Ravens.

“He knew what it was to play here both as a local and as an opposing coach,” Ebersol said of Neuheisel when announcing the AAF’s presence in Arizona last May. “To capture that affinity was really important.”

In Arizona, the AAF debuted on Feb. 10 as the Arizona Hotshots beat the Salt Lake Stallions at Sun Devil Stadium. There, former Cardinals tight end Gerald Christian scored the first touchdown in franchise history.

Ebersol pitched the AAF in Arizona as an offseason football league to satisfy fans of the sport and hoped it would come with interactive in-game enhancements to satisfy fantasy football fans. He made the comparison of the NFL offseason to to a ride-sharing service like Uber and Lyft shutting down operations for months out of the year.

Now, it appears the AAF itself is shuttering for the time being.