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Tom Dundon goes down as AAF’s killer instead of rescuing the league

April 8, 2019

The savior turned out to be the executioner.

Tom Dundon came to the AAF bearing gifts a $250 million investment in February which just so happened to give him complete control. Then he took the fledgling spring league by the throat and choked it to death.

“I’m extremely disappointed to learn Tom Dundon has decided to suspend all football operations of the Alliance of American Football,” Bill Polian said in a statement last week. “When Mr. Dundon took over, it was the belief of my co-founder, Charlie Ebersol, and myself, that we would finish the season, pay our creditors and make the necessary adjustments to move forward in a manner that made economic sense for all.”

That would’ve been the decent thing to do.

Instead, Dundon drop-kicked the players, coaches and other league personnel with just two weeks left in the inaugural season. The league had made it this far, opening to strong ratings that remained respectable, and an on-field product that was deemed decent. He at least could’ve ridden it out through the playoffs and a championship game.

“The momentum generated by our players, coaches and football staff had us well positioned for future success,” Polian said. “Regrettably, we will not have that opportunity. Unfortunately, Mr. Dundon has elected this course of action.”

Mr. Dundon, it seems, is a first-class heel.

According to Action Network’s Darren Rovell, the NHL Carolina Hurricanes’ owner didn’t pony up the total $250 million at once. He was funding the league on a week-to-week basis and had delivered only $70 million of the commitment before he pulled the plug.

“My investment will keep this thing viable for years and years to come,” Dundon said during a radio interview in February. “It’s not a viability issue, it’s just how good it can be.”

“Good” is relative. But the AAF wasn’t bad.

As long as league never fancied itself as an NFL-caliber operation, it had a chance of surviving as a niche market. The idea of spring football has been appealing enough to draw investors for several attempts throughout the years, with Vince McMahon lined up for a second go-round with the XFL in February.

From here, it looks like Dundon quickly soured on the AAF’s three-year plan and wanted to juice the league with fringe NFL players. Why he believes obscure third- and fourth-stringers would make a significant difference is beyond me, but I suppose any players connected to NFL teams might boost interest in the AAF.

Dundon began chirping about adding more talent shortly after coming aboard. “If the (NFL players union) is not going to give us young players, we can’t be a development league,” he told USA Today late last month. “We are looking at our options, one of which is discontinuing the league.”

My, my, that escalated quickly.

Dundon is confused. First, the AAF already was a developmental league without any agreements with the NFLPA. At least a dozen players reportedly have agreed to terms with NFL teams since the AAF folded, including defensive end Andrew Ankrah, who’s expected to sign with Washington.

Second, the players’ union has absolutely no reason to help the AAF, XFL or any other league. It represents players, on NFL rosters and practice squads, whose health and safety would be at risk if they participated in the AAF during the offseason.

If the NFLPA doesn’t look out for players well-being, no one will, especially not anyone in the NFL.

“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,” an anonymous union official told USA Today.

Perhaps, down the road, the topic could’ve been addressed in collective bargaining. But Dundon was crazy to think he could barge in and make demands, five minutes after joining the upstart league.

According to one theory, Dundon wasn’t interested in the AAF as much as the gambling app it was developing. That would make him just another corporate raider looking to strip an investment for parts. But it appears that MGM has first dibs on the technology, so all Dundon gets for his trouble is a $70 million write-off.

Everyone else gets a lame, unsigned apology.

“This week we made the difficult decision to suspend all football operations,” the league said in a weekend statement. “We understand the difficulty this decision has caused for many people and for that we are very sorry.”

I imagine Polian and Ebersol have several regrets.

No. 1 might be selecting a sorry excuse for a savior.

Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.