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Johnny Manziel

FAN CONTROLLED FOOTBALL WRAPS REGULAR SEASON WITHOUT ITS BIGGEST STAR, JOHNNY MANZIEL

In the final week of its inaugural season, Fan Controlled Football, which has a distribution partnership with VENN, showed fans the league’s potential while also revealing some of the flaws it hasn’t figured out how to overcome yet.

First, the good stuff. For the second consecutive week, the Zappers won their game via a Hail Mary pass on the last play of the game as former Pro Bowl wide receiver Josh Gordon, playing in his first FCF game, scored the deciding touchdown.

The league’s small field, opened up by less players on it, results in big play after big play. The first game of the night saw over 100 points combined scored by the two teams in regulation, a shootout that would rank among the highest scoring games in NFL history.

FCF has also shown an ability to quickly adapt to change, addressing flaws in its format week to week. On Saturday, both the Wild Aces and the Glacier Boyz latched onto a new strategy in the early game: onside kicks — or, at least, the FCF version of onside kicks (where the team that just scored a touchdown is given one chance to convert a 4th & 10 to keep the ball).

Both teams realized that, not only is it fairly easy to gain 10 yards in the FCF, but it’s even easier to do it against a winded defense that can’t get off the field. Six out of the last seven touchdowns in the game were followed up by an onside kick, with possession only changing hands as a result of interceptions.

Not only does this seem less than fair, a team repeatedly beating on a tired defense that has no way to stop it, but it results in a terrible experience for the fans. Since the audience only calls plays when their team is on offense, some fans were forced to sit through three or four drives in a row without the ability to engage with “fan controlled” football.

After the Wild Aces held off the Glacier Boyz by a score of 56-52, moving the Aces to a 2-2 record and dropping the Glacier Boyz to 1-3, league officials got together and decided to change the rules in an attempt to prevent this from happening again. The new rule states that a team cannot choose to “onside kick” in an attempt to retain possession after a score unless that team is trailing at the time of the decision.

One of the promises made to fans before the season started was that Fan Controlled Football would be fast. Not just the plays on the field, but the clock as well. With a 40 minute “running clock”, it was promised more than once that the entire viewing experience of a game would take roughly an hour.

If you’re a fan of soccer, you know that a running clock means gametime does not stop. FCF wanted to play up the drama in the final moments of each half, so they announced a new rule earlier this season that stopped the clock after every play in the final 30 seconds of each half. This rule is fine by itself, but when paired with a clock that stops for every penalty, every replay review and every score, the games are nowhere near the hour that was promised.

In fact, despite 40 minutes of a “running clock” and a 5 minute halftime, the two games on Saturday took a whopping 4 hours and 15 minutes. For fans on the east coast, the second game ended after midnight.

The second game, a relatively low scoring affair that saw the Zappers escape with a 32-26 win over the Beasts to move to 2-2 on the season and dash the Beasts’ hope of an undefeated season, was 1 hour and 45 minutes by itself. The high-scoring first game was much longer than that, with the clock stopping every time a flag was thrown or the ball made it into the end zone.

To keep fans engaged — and fulfill its original promise of shorter contests — FCF should address the issue of game length now, while they are still in a place to maneuver quickly.

Since its inception, Fan Controlled Football has focused on bringing in former NFL players as a way to generate interest and attract more fans. Johnny Manziel was signed before the start of the season and has, more or less, remained the face of the league ever since. However, Manziel may have already given up on FCF.

In weeks 1 and 2, Manziel criticized his own play and said that he was washed up. It didn’t seem like he really wanted to be playing football and soon stories came out about him training in an attempt to pursue a professional golfing career. Just before the Zappers’ week 3 game, Manziel left the FCF bubble for “emergency dental surgery”, but promised to be back for week 4 and the playoffs.

In fact, Gordon signed with the Zappers specifically to play with Johnny Manziel. However, Gordon showed up for week 4 and Manziel was not in uniform or on the field. The Zappers played without him, going 2-0 without their star quarterback after starting 0-2 with him on the field. No reason for Manziel’s absence was given for Saturday’s game and he also missed a promised appearance in the broadcast booth.

Has the face of FCF abandoned the league? Can Fan Controlled Football figure out a way to fulfill its promises to fans of being a better viewing experience than the NFL? That remains to be seen as the league heads into its playoffs next weekend.

Photo by Todd Kirkland/Fan Controlled Football/Getty Images
DULUTH, GEORGIA – FEBRUARY 20: Johnny Manziel #2 of the Zappers wears a Gatorade towel during a Fan Controlled Football game against the Glacier Boyz at Infinite Energy Arena on February 20, 2021 in Duluth, Georgia.

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