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AAF's Demise Pits The Successful Against The Entitled

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Peter Joneleit

Two months after its first game, the Alliance of American Football suspended football operations earlier this week, essentially a death knell to the fledgling league intent on keeping America's favorite sport active and viable through the spring.

Now the finger pointing begins with Dallas billionaire Tom Dundon painted as the bad guy by many indoctrinated to assume the worst of those with hefty bank accounts.

Ironically, the class warfare here isn't between the haves and have-nots, however, it's between the successful and the entitled, pitting Dundon against the snake-oil salesman he bailed out in February, league co-founder Charlie Ebersol, television royalty who essentially told tall tales at every turn when discussing the funding of his ill-conceived startup.

The son of long-time NBC Sports heavyweight Dick Ebersol, the man who once partnered with wrestling impresario Vince McMahon on the ill-fated original XFL, it was the younger Ebersol's ESPN's documentary on the XFL, set to be rebooted in 2020, which fueled his desire to start a new league by racing to the starting blocks with claims of rock-solid funding in order to beat his dad's old partner to the punch of burning money.  

Dundon, the owner of the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes, poured $70 million in the league since buying it on Feb. 19 before tapping out, ostensibly because he couldn't work out a talent-trading deal with the NFL and its players' union to serve as a developmental entity. Ebersol's camp "believes" Dundon may have bought the company for its intellectual property and stripped it with the idea that a much-ballyhooed App was the magic bullet when it came to professional sports and tapping into the fast-moving, sports-betting market.  

There's the cynicism necessary to be a capable reporter and there's common sense.

A startup football league with no money has the advantage when it comes to in-game betting technology over Silicon Valley? Meanwhile, from Dundon's side even if you forget the NFL has a cost-free feeder system in college football and has never shown the appetite for running its own affiliate system even when it has wedded it to more important goals -- best evidenced by the old World League of American Football/NFL Europe -- the negotiation to use back of the roster or practice-squad players with the NFL/NFLPA is a complicated one involving a binding CBA which would take months under the best of circumstances.

Dundon was either promised or assumed things which couldn't be delivered by desperate people for what was publicized as a $250 million investment.

The fact he delivered only $70M for this money pit has been painted as heartless and unfair to many even though it's clear if Dundon didn't ride in on his white horse made of cash, the AAF would have been toe-tagged after Week 1 because the initial investor, reported by former ESPN business analyst Darren Rovell as Reggie Fowler, promised funds that never existed.

Fowler has his own shady history. Back in 2005, he made a splash by entering into an agreement to purchase the Minnesota Vikings, even scraping up $20 million to put down a minimal down payment on a $600M deal. As the due diligence started, however, it quickly became evident that Fowler just didn't have the wealth to handle such a purchase and ultimately New Jersey billionaire Zygi Wilf stepped in to buy the Vikings and keep them in Minneapolis.

Fowler was allowed to stay on as a very limited partner but quietly excited in October of 2014 when news surfaced that U.S. Bank filed suit and he had amassed over $60M in debts, stemming from a holding company in Arizona, Spiral Inc., which listed dozens of subsidies, essentially shells for deals that never materialized. 

Despite discussing solid funding in multiple media outlets Ebersol built his house of cards on the back of one man with that resume but the rich guy refusing to provide a plane ticket home for so many hard-working young men just trying to earn a second chance at their dreams was as easy as it comes for an often-lazy media narrative especially when the "promise" to the entitled was for a quarter-billion not 28 percent of that.

It certainly would have been prudent for Dundon to send everyone home free of charge as a makeup for the sins of others because it would have served as a rounding error and provided value by erasing bad publicity. Logically, though, if Dundon never existed to try to clean up the mess others created those players wouldn't have $57,000 [AAF players were ultimately paid for their last game] to buy that ticket to get home.

When framed that way -- nearly $60K in the players' pockets versus a plane ticket home at no cost after toiling in one game which they weren't paid for -- perhaps those upset by the AAF's denouement would turn their angst in the right direction.

Dundon shouldn't have taken on this headache in the first place but painting him as the villain because of his bank account is a very entitled thing to do. And if you're in that camp, Charlie Ebersol is waiting at the bar with an investment opportunity.

-John McMullen is a long-time syndicated sports columnist for The Sports Network and an on-air personality for ESPN South Jersey. You can reach him at or on Twitter @JFMcMullen


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