For those of you craving American-based, non-NFL professional football, you’re going to have to wait nine months until the “new and improved” XFL kicks off.
On Monday Vince McMahon’s do-over league announced an impressive media partnership (ESPN and FOX Sports), so unlike some upstarts that miss their launch date I think this one really is a go for February, 2020.
The Freedom Football League and Pacific Pro Football are also planning to begin their inaugural seasons next year, and there are probably others in the works.
There always are these days.
But since the last league to successfully exist in the same universe as the NFL was the American Football League, those of us who are fans of Brand X operations know not to get too attached.
What’s here today is quite likely to be gone tomorrow.
However, I’ve often thought about what kind of NFL alternative league I’d put together if given the chance. What would I want to see and how could it possibly work?
Glad you asked.
First off, forget about spring football … the United States Football League did it best and nothing else has come close. Plus, these leagues that start the week after the Super Bowl (such as the original and future XFL as well as the recently expired Alliance of American Football) are beginning play at a terrible time of year.
The weather is cold and nasty, and doesn’t really get better until the season is done.
My league – I’m calling it the Summer Football League – would start the first Saturday in May and have a 14-week regular season.
Using this year’s calendar, Week 1 would’ve commenced on May 4, the final week of the set schedule would be played on August 3, and there would be two weeks of playoffs with the SFL championship game (the Summer Bowl) on August 17.
Unlike those who continually insist that Americans have an unquenchable thirst for football year round, I’m not sure I believe that.
I think it’s perfectly fine to take three months off in February, March and April, especially with March Madness and the start of baseball season on the horizon.
Besides, more fans would be in a football frame of mind with a May kickoff.*
* I’m a huge Canadian Football League fan and the preseason starts this month, so I’m already girded up and ready to go.
Ideally, the SFL would start with 12 teams in a mixture of markets. It’s always a good idea to have franchises in places like New York, Chicago and Southern California to entice TV partners, but second-tier cities might put more people in the seats. (Maybe announce the league 18 months from the start and do some polling to find out which cities are most likely to support summer football).
One important note: the SFL would not be a single entity circuit, which is the preferred model of late. I’m looking for men and women who want to own football teams and have tons of disposable income.
So, just for fun, let’s say the SFL features the following teams, which I’ve been nice enough to nickname for you:
New York Nighthawks
San Antonio Fortress
San Diego Armada
The three division winners and one wildcard team would qualify for the playoffs.
All who know me know that when it comes to alternative leagues I want to see innovative rules and – fortunately – many of the ones I like best were used in the World Football League (1974-75).
WFL rules I’d steal for the SFL are:
* Touchdowns are worth 7 points.
* Instead of a PAT kick, offenses would attempt a 1-point conversion from the two and a half yard line.
* Offensive backs can go in motion toward the line of scrimmage before the ball is snapped.
* Fair catches are not permitted on punts. Instead, the returner receives a 5-yard cushion allowing him to field the kick.
* Only one foot in bounds required for a pass completion.
With kickoffs moving closer to becoming obsolete in tackle football, I’d be inclined to replace them with no-rush punts.
The “replacement” play would take place at the kicking team’s 30, and since you wouldn’t have players charging at each other from opposite directions, the chances of dangerous hits would be lessened.
Another rule change I really like is awarding defenses a single point for a fumble recovery or interception. Yeah, it’s a bit radical and usually when I bring it up I’m met with eye rolls, but it’s my league and my fantasy, so I’m going with it.
OK, we’ve got a season, 12 franchises and unique rules.
What about the players?
Well, I don’t think this “developmental league” approach is ever going to gain traction, especially since so many college players are already NFL ready before they leave school.
So, if my owners want to go after established NFL stars and high draft picks, they have my blessings. But ultimately, they aren’t going to prevail in bidding wars.
What I think would work best is to chase older NFL players and backups.
You won’t get Tom Brady to defect to the SFL, but you might get Brady’s backup, Brian Hoyer.
And the SFL would be a good landing spot for fading stars looking for one last shot at glory.
I’m betting fans would be more inclined to follow teams with former NFL players than squads stocked with guys who were never quite good enough to make the big leagues in the first place.
Thus, the SFL would be a nice warmup act for the college football and NFL headliners.
So, is something akin to the Summer Football League viable?
Only if you have a bunch of rich owners who take great satisfaction in losing money year after year and playing second fiddle to the “big league.”
The NFL has cornered the market on elite professional football, and by and large American football fans seem perfectly content with the gridiron fix provided by its 32 teams.
I’d love to see additional leagues pop up – the more the merrier – but the chances of their success are astronomically low.
If someone wants to form the Summer Football League and make me commissioner, though, I’m available.
And hopelessly optimistic.