The Alliance of American Football’s rocky first season took an ominous turn this week when Tom Dundon, the league’s principal investor, told USA Today’s Kevin Allen and Mike Jones that he would have to consider folding the league without an influx of young players from NFL rosters.
Dundon blamed the NFL Players Association for the lack of cooperation. He said the league was hoping to work out an agreement to use NFL practice squad players, specifically quarterbacks and linemen, for the next AAF season.
‘‘If the players union is not going to give us young players, we can’t be a development league,’’ Dundon said. ‘‘We are looking at our options, one of which is discontinuing the league.’’
That decision could come in the next two days, Dundon told the USA Today reporters.
No one from the union would comment on the record, but an NFLPA source told USA Today reporters that the union is concerned that such player-sharing would violate the collective bargaining agreement between the NFLPA and the NFL, specifically restrictions on mandatory offseason workouts.
‘‘The limitations set in place are designed to ensure the safety and adequate rest and recovery time for football players,’’ Allen and Jones wrote. ‘‘But there’s a concern that teams would abuse their power and perhaps force young players into AAF action as a condition for consideration for NFL roster spots in the fall.’’
The union also is worried about the financial ramifications for a player who suffers a serious injury while playing for an AAF team.
In previous interviews, Dundon has said he had no plans to sell the AAF to the NFL. But without some sort of official connection between the two leagues, the younger circuit apparently might not make it to Year 2.
Dundon, owner of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, stepped in to pledge a needed $250 million to the AAF in February after its first weekend of games in exchange for being named chairman of the AAF board of directors. Reports had surfaced that AAF teams had had trouble paying their players after the initial contests, though Condon denied that the league was in danger of becoming insolvent.
‘‘The league has many years of cash if things don’t go according to plan,’’ Dundon said then. ‘‘The way we set it up, I think, is well in excess of what I think we’ll need for the league to be sustainable or profitable without me having to prop it up.’’
Charlie Ebersol, who founded the league with longtime NFL executive Bill Polian, framed Dundon’s largesse not as a rescue but rather an investment, saying Dundon liked what he saw from the league after its first weekend of games and wanted to get in on the ground floor.
The AAF got off the ground earlier this year with a surprising amount of buzz, thanks in part to novel rule tweaks that did away with kickoffs and onside kicks. Early reports were promising: The first two AAF games, broadcast by CBS on Feb. 9, drew 3.25 million viewers, more than an NBA game airing on ABC at the same time, and a game the next day on NFL Network drew 640,000 viewers. Then, in Week 2, a Saturday afternoon Salt Lake-Birmingham game on TNT drew a still-respectable 1 million viewers.
But only 340,000 people watched Saturday’s game between the Orlando Apollos and the Atlanta Legends on TNT, and the games broadcast by NFL Network on Saturday and Sunday — one of them featuring former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel — drew less than 300,000.
Attendance, meanwhile, has been good for some teams (the San Antonio Commanders are averaging 29,126 per game) while dismal for others (both the Arizona Hotshots and the Salt Lake Stallions are averaging less than 10,000), though none of the league’s eight teams have come close to filling the NFL- and major college-size stadiums they inhabit.