I don’t know how much pro football you want.
What I do know is you might be about to get more than you probably ever imagined.
In fact – if everything goes as planned – pro football will be a year-round venture starting in 2020, with two “traditional” leagues, four minor leagues and a total of 71 teams playing for pay.
The top tier circuits are the 32-team NFL and 9-team Canadian Football League, and those are the ones you know will be around year after year. Not any real use in discussing them other to say they’ve combined to create a pro football calendar that runs from late May (CFL preseason games) to the first Sunday in February (the Super Bowl).
In the not-too-distant future, however, there’s a chance you’ll never have to go gridironless again.
While the Alliance of American Football has filled in the spring gap this year, it’ll be joined by the new eight-team XFL in 2020.
Both seasons begin the weekend following the Super Bowl, so fans will have 16 teams to choose from next spring.
But wait … there’s more.
The Freedom Football League is looking at a May 2020 launch. Although no coaches have been hired or stadiums rented, the league has already announced 10 clubs.
And finally, there’s the four-team Pacific Pro Football, which is a league geared toward players who want to skip college and start earning a legitimate football paycheck right out of high school.
Already delayed two years, the latest Pac Pro plan is for four Southern California-based teams to start playing in July 2020.
Let’s take a look at all four, shall we?
The new XFL should have a better shot at survival than the original version, which drowned in bad football and gimmicks during its one-and-done season in 2001.
Oliver Luck is the commissioner, proven coaches such as Bob Stoops are already on board, and the pay scale (similar to that of the Alliance) means it’ll be able to attract some of the best players not on NFL rosters.
With all its teams in major media markets (Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, St. Louis, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Washington) it sets itself up as a serious spring player and rival developmental league to the AAF, and I’m confident founder Vince McMahon has learned from his 2001 mistakes.
Plus, the XFL can take a cue from the Alliance’s rule innovations to see what works and what doesn’t, enabling it to implement its own tweaks.
I do wonder, however, why it wants to revive the name “XFL” since version 1.0 was a flop.
I get that it has name recognition, but that’s not always an advantage.
Alliance of American Football
I’m increasingly confident the Alliance will return for its sophomore year.
Already halfway through its inaugural regular season, the AAF has been a success on TV and social platforms. In fact, on Thursday, the league announced it was shifting a pair of games to CBS. Originally, just the opening weekend and championship game were slated for the “mother ship,” but it’s drawn a lot of eyes on the CBS Sports Network, NFL Network, and TNT.
There’s always a fear that the novelty will wear off, but that hasn’t been the case as the Alliance is starting to find its footing and showcase some entertaining games.
My only concern is at the gate. While San Antonio is averaging close to 30,000 fans per game and Orlando and San Diego usually host around 20,000 spectators, Birmingham, Memphis, Atlanta, Arizona and Salt Lake have struggled to bring in live bodies.
As a Birmingham native I’ve been disappointed in crowds for the Iron games.
I realize weather has done the team no favors, but this was a city that used to really support pro football. Through four games at Legion Field the Iron has drawn 54,207 fans for a 13,552 average.
The AAF has a solid relationship with the NFL and should that evolve into a formal working agreement, its chances of long-term survival increase dramatically.
Freedom Football League
The Freedom Football League is taking a cue from international soccer in that it promotes a kind of community ownership. According to its website:
The FFL’s teams will be owned by a unique consortium that includes former NFL players, active players from each FFL team, the local franchise operators, and most uniquely, you the fan.
It promises an approach that will put safety player first and “reimagine the game experience” for fans, although what that experience will be has yet to be defined.
In addition, the league is encouraging its players to take a stand on social issues, which is admirable but ultimately irrelevant when it comes to getting people to watch the games.
Teams have already been identified and given nicknames: the Birmingham Kings, Connecticut Underground, Florida Strong, Oakland Panthers, Ohio Players, Oklahoma City Power, Portland Progress, San Diego Warriors, St. Louis Independence and Texas Revolution.
It’s got some big names behind it (including NFL All-Pros Ricky Williams and Jeff Garcia) and is finally getting active on social media, but to me it still doesn’t seem “real” yet.
That feeling won’t change until the FFL starts lining up players and coaches.
Pacific Pro Football
Pac Pro was the one league I was really excited about when it first introduced itself.
I like the idea of giving good young players with no interest in college an avenue to make money playing football, and still think of all the “alternative league” ideas this one might be the best.
Former NFL wideout Ed McCaffrey is the commissioner and the average pay for each player on a 50-man squad will be $50,000 (plus optional community college tuition and book stipends for a year).
But having just four teams in its first season – all in SoCal – limits its reach dramatically.
I understand soft launches, but this might be a bit too soft.
Virtually any new business venture is a longshot, of course, especially when it comes to sports leagues. So whether or not all four of these alternative circuits are actually doing business this time next year remains to be seen.
If it all comes to pass, however, fans who complain that there’s not enough football will have to find something else to complain about starting in 2020.