Can you envision an American sports landscape in which college football is largely irrelevant?
But just for the sake of argument, what if some of the best high school football players could dispense with that pesky education thing and go straight to the pay-for-play model? What kind of impact would that have on the Football Bowl Subdivision and Football Championship Subdivision?
Beyond that, what if many first and second-year college guys decided to bolt early for a non-NFL circuit?
Maybe we’re going to find out.
Pacific Pro Football is a four-team league scheduled to begin play next July. My impression when it was first announced a couple of year ago (its launch has already been delayed twice) was that it was targeting prep stars who either didn’t qualify for college or simply didn’t want to go.
According to its website:
Pacific Pro is the most significant innovation in American football in decades. Pacific Pro is the first professional football league ever created to provide developing football players with a choice to play professionally directly from high school – a league where emerging players can hone their craft, play football, and be compensated for it.
If you follow Clemson football, however, you probably already know that one of Pac Pro’s organizers – Don Yee – covets Tiger quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
Three weeks after the freshman sensation led Clemson to a 44-16 drubbing of Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, Yee (Tom Brady’s agent, by the way) was inviting Lawrence to forgo the rest of his college eligibility and become the fledgling league’s first big “get.”
“Our player population, for example, will be players such as Trevor Lawrence at Clemson,” Yee said during a radio interview with 104.5 The Zone in Nashville. “We would like to make him an employment offer, professionalize right away. Be our Joe Namath. Adidas is one of our founding sponsors, and I think they might want to make him an endorsement proposal. “And he would be professional, and he would learn an NFL style of game with us before he declares for the draft.”
More from the Pac Pro website:
Pacific Pro will be the first league to professionalize players who are less than 4 years removed from their high school graduation. Players will receive a salary, benefits, and even paid tuition and books for one year at community college. Players also will be able to market themselves for compensation, and begin creating a financial retirement plan if they so choose.
Pac Pro is offering a salary in the $50,000 range, which is pretty sweet for a couple of months’ work. And in Lawrence’s case, there would be no shortage of big money endorsement offers.
The kid’s the real deal.
But as tempting as the money might be, I doubt No. 16 has any desire to leave Death Valley before he becomes NFL Draft eligible.
With one national title under his belt, he has more to chase – as well as a Heisman Trophy. Plus, it would be a huge risk to jump to an organization that – so far – provides nothing more than promises.
Namath spurned the NFL for the New York Jets and the American Football League, but the AFL was already (almost) the NFL’s equal. He signed his contract just 17 months before the leagues announced their merger.
Sure, it was a huge boardroom victory for the “insurgents,” but it made perfect sense financially.
Pac Pro is designed as a bridge league and has yet to even identify its teams, although all four will supposedly be placed in southern California. And with the Alliance of American Football serving as the latest object lesson, pro football upstarts usually stop – and they often stop rather abruptly.
Imagine jumping into the league, seeing it fold after one season (or before the first season is completed, as was the case with the AAF), and then finding yourself in limbo since you no longer have college eligibility and don’t yet qualify for the NFL.
That’s a gamble most future NFL first-rounders wouldn’t be willing to take right now.
So while Yee might want a “Namath,” the best he can hope for is a guinea pig. And if Pac Pro does get off the ground, there should be some college players who’ll be willing to try the experiment. Whether there will be enough to turn it into a viable league that plays a level comparable to big-time college football is, of course, the big question.
If it defies all odds by surviving and expanding, then blue-chippers might one day begin to see Pac Pro as a better and more lucrative way to chase their goals. And if they decide to do that, more power to them.
There was a time when I was excited about the prospects of this league. Some people are cut out for four-year colleges and others are a better fit for trade school, and this appeared to be a good option for those whose trade is football.
But if I’m understanding Yee correctly, Pac Pro is really more interested in college freshmen and sophomores who are tired of waiting for a big payday and willing to settle for a smaller one while waiting to join pro football’s top tier.
That paints the picture of a vulture league that hovers over the college game.
There’s nothing wrong with vultures – they have to eat, too – but there’s just something unseemly about it all. (Of course there are plenty of unseemly things about the NCAA, too, so perhaps my indignity is misplaced).
That being said, I like the idea of a league that gives football players who don’t want to go to school another option, but I’m not sure that’s Pac Pro’s primary mission anymore.
If the plan is to raid colleges for first and second-year stars, things could get messy for Pac Pro and the NCAA – and particularly the players caught in the middle.