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San Diego Fleet kicks off Alliance of American Football league debut in San Antonio

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The San Diego Fleet will play at the Alamodome in San Antonio as the Alliance of American Football makes its debut with two games.

The eight-team league is the "Triple-A of pro football," said Steve Spurrier, the 1966 Heisman Trophy winner and former Florida coach, who coaches the AAF's Orlando Apollos.

While Spurrier called winning a championship his top goal, "if some guys play well enough to go (to) the NFL, we're gladly gonna say, `Go,"' he said.

The AAF is not competing against the NFL, but sees itself as a complement to it.

"You wanted to exist in the window after the Super Bowl to the NFL Draft," said Charlie Ebersol, who came up with the concept for the league. "That is the best possible place to do it."

One example of the NFL's support for the league is that the NFL Network will televise a game each Saturday and Sunday night beginning next week.

Ebersol, a 36-year-old television and film producer, said he founded the league "because I saw the need."

"I saw a need among players, fans and the NFL," said Ebersol, a son of former NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol, who is on the league's board.

"You had these 26,000-27,000 Division I athletes who came out of college every year and only 1,700 jobs in the NFL, which really means only about 150 jobs for these kids.

"Eighty million people stop watching sports in the United States when football goes off television. I think the statistics show quite clearly there is a gap in the market of people who don't watch sports when football goes off television."

The AAF was mindful of the failures of past spring pro football leagues. For instance, all the AAF teams are owned by the league, which is backed by multiple wealthy investors, and all players are signed to the same three-year, $250,000 contract that includes on- and off-field incentives "that can earn them a whole lot more money," according to the league.

"You can't have a league, it can't survive in a spring model, unless you have a one-size-fits-all salary schedule," said Bill Polian, the league's other co-founder, a former executive with three NFL teams and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

There are several differences between the AAF and NFL.

The AAF will allow fans to do real-time mobile gaming.

"Someone described with fantasy you are the general manager, but with our game, you are the coach," Ebersol said.

"The ability to play in real-time as opposed to picking your team the night before and then riding out whatever decision you made -- this is much more as the game is unfolding."

The AAF has a partnership with MGM to handle the gambling aspect.

"We are not a gambling company," Ebersol said. "We are an information and mobile technology company. Our game is for families to play. Think of it more like Candy Crush. It's something the whole family can play and it's not legally restricted in any way."

On the field, the AAF will generally play with NFL rules, but there are some exceptions. There will be a 35-second play clock, five seconds less than the NFL, to speed up the game.

In an attempt to increase player safety, there will not be kickoffs, which Polian called the most dangerous play in football. The offense will start on its 25-yard line to begin a game and after a score.

A team trailing by 17 or more points any time or with five minutes or less to play in the fourth quarter can elect to take the ball on its 28-yard line with a fourth-and-12. If it converts the first down, it keeps going with a fresh set of downs. If it fails to convert, the ball is turned over.

There will be no extra-point kicks. Teams will have to attempt a two- point conversion after each touchdown.

Regular-season overtime will give each team one possession starting with a first down at the opponent's 10-yard line. If the score remains tied after each team has had one possession, it will end in a tie.

Playoff overtime will be played as sudden death.

The league's coaches are by far its biggest names.

The Fleet are coached by Mike Martz, who coached the St. Louis Rams from 2000-05, guiding them to a 53-32 record, including a berth in Super Bowl XXXVI, where they were upset by the New England Patriots.

The Fleet's Saturday opponent, the San Antonio Commanders, are coached by Mike Riley, who coached the San Diego Chargers to a 14-34 record from 1999-2001.

After his stint with the Chargers, Riley coached Oregon State from 2003-14 and Nebraska from 2015-17.

Saturday's other game matches the Spurrier-coached Orlando Apollos against the Atlanta Legends.

The two Saturday games will be shown on a regional basis by CBS.

The league's other coaches include former Colorado, Washington and UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, who coaches the Arizona Hotshots; Dennis Erickson, who coached Miami to national championships in 1989 and 1991, and coaches the Salt Lake Stallions, and former Chicago Bears linebacker and San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Singletary, who coaches the Memphis Express.

Players were allocated to teams based on geography.

The Fleet have the first right to players from San Diego State, University of San Diego, USC, Washington, Stanford, Colorado and nine other universities.

San Diego State is the No. 1 alma mater of players on the Fleet's 52- player roster with eight, followed by Pittsburgh and San Jose State with four each.

All but three of the players played on NCAA Division I teams. Sixteen of the players have been on regular-season rosters of NFL teams.

The league also conducted a quarterbacks draft in an attempt to create competitive balance.

Former Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici will start for the Fleet. He played with the Chargers during preseason in 2016, when they were based in San Diego, and 2017, in Los Angeles, and spent part of the 2017 season on the Arizona Cardinals practice squad.

Riley has not announced San Antonio's starting quarterback.

Riley's options are Marquise Williams, who threw for 7,970 yards and 61 touchdowns in four seasons at North Carolina; Dustin Vaughan, a three-year starter at Division II West Texas A&M, who threw for a school-record 13,525 yards and 123 touchdowns and was the third quarterback on the Dallas Cowboys roster in 2014; and Logan Woodside, the 2017 Mid-American Conference Player of the Year when playing for Toledo.

While Martz said he did not know what kind of game there would be Saturday, Bercovici said he expected "a physical football game."

"What we realized from the scrimmage is ... the defensive guys are playing fast and physical," said Bercovici, who turns 26 on Saturday.

Riley, who coached the San Antonio Riders in the first two seasons of the World League of American Football, said "there might be more scoring" in the AAF than other new football leagues.

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