If you’ve perused this website at all, you realize my devotion to Brand X football is both longstanding, continuous and borderline ridiculous.
Tell me you’re starting a professional tackle football league, and I’m gonna listen.
Tell me it’ll last, and I’ll pretend to believe you.
But while most tales of upstart gridiron circuits are relatively short and simple (they debut, they lose millions of dollars, they can’t pay their bills, they fold), I have to tip my hat to The Spring League (TSL), the brainchild of Brian Woods.
Its financial plan is brilliant.
Well, players pay to participate, so the league doesn’t have to worry about making payroll. In fact, those who spent April as TSL players had to pony up a $2,000 registration fee.
What do they get for their investment?
Per the league’s website:
Each player accepted into The Spring League receives housing and meals. Additionally, players benefit from elite instruction and coaching, as well as the opportunity to be scouted by professional football clubs.
And after just three seasons, TSL is already (basically) the farm system for the new XFL. It just completed a scouting event in California and has another planned July 28-31.
“We’re in an important phase of our development and The Spring League gives us the perfect platform to continue our effort to reimagine the game,” Oliver Luck, XFL commissioner and CEO, said. “We had a great experience and learned so much at The Spring League in April, and feel confident that after these next two sessions we’ll have identified a few XFL-caliber players and be closer to finalizing our rules and gameplay.”
Completely lost? Never heard of The Spring League before?
Don’t worry … you’re not alone. Its origins are not unlike the origins of those blink and you’ll miss ‘em leagues that came before it.
Woods, a walk-on safety at Ole Miss who has lawyer, agent, and former coach on his resume, founded the Fall Experimental Football League (FXFL) in 2014, which was designed to serve as an in-season (and short season) feeder system to the NFL.
I followed the league because former Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd played for the Brooklyn Bolts. Since the publication I worked for at the time was Tiger-centric, it gave me the perfect excuse to goob out over another league destined to pop up and blow up.
And that it did; it lasted just two mini-seasons before officially suspending operations in September of 2016. But Woods took what he learned from the experience and came up with the idea for The Spring League.
However, unlike the Alliance of American Football – the most recent spring league to try and fail – it isn’t really designed to draw fans.
It’s designed to draw scouts, because in reality it’s a glorified, extended combine:
The Spring League is an elite development league & scouting event for professional football talent. The Spring League takes place each year during the months of March and April. Additionally, The Spring League holds one-week showcases in the summer and fall.
In 2017, the four-team “league” set up shop in West Virginia and spent three weeks serving as a showcase for guys hoping to get another shot at pay-for-play football.
When camp broke, a handful had signed with NFL and Canadian Football League teams.
Last year The Spring League moved to Austin, Texas, and featured Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, who parlayed his experience with the camp into a contract with the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
As was the case in 2017, some of its campers went on to the NFL and CFL, but dozens more landed (and stuck) with the Alliance.
This spring it stayed in Austin and teamed up with the XFL as more than just a place where pro football hopefuls can attract eyeballs. Vince McMahon’s second go round with his version of Brand X football is using TSL as a lab for rule experimentation.
When XFL 2.0 takes the field next February its rulebook will have mostly been determined in Austin, and I’m guessing quite a few TSL players will be holding down XFL roster spots.
“We are excited to be working with the XFL again and further demonstrate our value as both a platform for player development and incubator for rules testing,” Woods said. “Our summer events will provide additional opportunities for players to be scouted by XFL coaches and scouts in advance of their 2020 launch.”
Certainly, The Spring League doesn’t fit the mold of what we’ve come to expect from “alternative” pro football and I’m not sure what the end game is. Does it want to be an actual league at some point? Is its ultimate purpose the one it’s already serving?
If the XFL beats the odds and lasts, maybe TSL can tag along as a long-term partner. Or, perhaps it can morph into something else entirely.
Regardless of how things play out, I’ll be keeping track of it.
After all, that’s what I do.
For more information, go to www.thespringleague.com.