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AAF’s substitute for kickoff, onside kick should attract NFL’s attention

The Alliance of American Football will use a video official to help with replays in certain situations, including pass interference, and it could be a good test case for the NFL.

The kickoff is dead. As far as the Alliance of American Football is concerned.

And at a time when the NFL seems to be inching toward a similar outcome, the more established league surely will be paying attention to the AAF’s tee-free reality.

So when the first season of the AAF kicks off tonight, the ball won’t be kicked but will be placed at the 25, with one team on offense and the other team on defense. After each score and at the start of each half, that’s how the game will proceed.

With two important exceptions.

If the team that just scored trails by 17 or more points or if the team that just scored trails by any amount with fewer than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, that team can choose to try to convert a fourth-and-12 play from its own 28. If the team gains 12 or more yards in that one play, it keeps possession. If it doesn’t, the other team takes possession.

It’s a great idea, but the AAF (and, eventually, the NFL) should go the rest of the way. The fourth-and-12 (or 15, as has been discussed by the NFL) play should be the default replacement for all kickoffs, with the team that otherwise would be kicking choosing between punting or going for it (or, possibly, trying a fake punt or even unexpectedly launching over the defense a pooch punt from offensive formation).

Until the AAF makes that fourth-and-12 play the standard replacement for kickoffs, one specific oddity can arise late in any AAF game. If a team is behind by more than a score with more than five minutes left in the game, that team could try to milk the clock while also trying to score, hoping to score with fewer than five minutes left so that it will have the ability to utilize the fourth-and-12 option.

It becomes an important strategic dynamic if/when a team that is down by two scores has the ball and is in position to get one of those two scores. Scoring too quickly means surrendering possession automatically. Engineering the clock so that the score comes with 4:59 or less on the clock secures the ability to try to keep possession via the fourth-and-12 play.

However these issues work themselves out, the NFL surely will be studying the situation. If fans embrace this alternative to the kickoff, the NFL will become more likely to incorporate the change (or something like it) into its game.