Stadiums across the country are littered with the carcasses of pro football leagues proven not quite ready for prime time. Still, almost without fail, someone comes along every decade or so with yet another plan to cash in on America’s passion for its favorite sport.
Their acronyms live on, though the leagues have long since died.
If you remember the 70s, you can’t forget the WFL, which tried to buy its way to success, only to succumb after just one World Bowl in 1974. Or the USFL, which went the other way with a more frugal approach before it, too, finally folded.
The legacy of the more recent XFL, meanwhile, was summed up neatly on the back of one player’s uniform.
“He Hate Me” wasn’t just Rod Smart’s nickname. It could have been used as the slogan for those who couldn’t stand watching the strange blend of pro wrestling and football aired for one awfully long season on NBC.
With every new league, there’s a new concept. Has to be, because it would be economic suicide to try to compete with the juggernaut that is the NFL on Sundays during football season.
It’s been economic suicide regardless. No one has cashed in since AFL owners hit the bonanza four decades ago, and most of the millions spent on football dreams since then could have been better invested in Florida swamp land deals.
from the past
The failures of the past, though, aren’t stopping others from trying.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban may be one. He is intrigued enough by the prospect of more football that he is studying the idea of a league that would play on Fridays and compete with the NFL for players drafted lower than the second round.
“It’s a pretty simple concept,” Cuban said. “We think there is more demand for pro football than supply.”
So does Gene Corrigan. But the new league his group is trying to launch may have the best gimmick yet.
You need a college degree to play.
Corrigan likes that rule for good reason. For seven years he was athletic director at Notre Dame, and he is the former commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference. He saw an awful lot of players leave college without degrees to pursue their goal of playing in the NFL, mostly with little success.
Those who didn’t make it were left with limited job skills, and their football prospects reduced to playing with semipro teams.
“All kids think they are going to play in the NFL,” Corrigan said. “Not many do.”
AAFL still in
The All-American Football League hasn’t played a game yet. It may never play one, though Corrigan, league financier Marcus Katz and the rest of the board of directors hope to make a decision in September to go forward with a spring schedule.
The league would be based mainly in the South, with six to eight teams consisting of players who went to college in that area. A team in Orlando, for example, would use mostly former Florida, Florida State and Miami players.
If tryouts last week were any indication, getting players won’t be a problem. Katz said 2,000 players wanted to try out, and that 300 were accepted and showed up in Orlando.
The concept sounds good, but until the average fan plunks down actual money to watch, that’s all it is. And while television craves sports content, there’s not a network around ready to pay a new league for rights.
Besides, who really needs a league full of goody-goody college graduates who don’t hang around strip clubs after the game? How are they going to get any media attention if they don’t preen after making tackles, wear more jewelry than Mr. T, and run dogfighting rings?
How about a real league, with ready-made stars like Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson and Chris Henry there for the taking? The All-Outlaw League wouldn’t have many rules, but one of them would be that players could only be on teams in the same state as the prison they just left.
XTim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press.