About a month ago I checked on the status of Pacific Pro Football, a new Southern California-based league that was set to start play this summer and one in which I have (had?) high hopes.
What makes it different from most alternative pro football leagues, according to its website, is this:
“Pac 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.”
That’s a novel idea. But the site hadn’t been updated in months and I assumed it would not be kicking off in 2018 since it still has no teams, coaches or players.
I assumed correctly.
On Feb. 28, Pac Pro sent out a release stating that adidas is a founding member of the league, which will “start play in 2019.”
That detail about the launch date was saved for the last line of the release, which is a textbook case of burying the lede.
But, if you’re one of those people like me whose ears always perk up at the sound of “new” football, allow me to introduce you to another circuit vowing to start in 2019 – the Alliance of American Football.
I knew Vince McMahon was planning an XFL reboot (or perhaps reimagining) in 2020, but I had no idea the AAF was coming.
Obviously, though, there has been some serious behind the scenes work.
While franchises won’t be announced until next month, the plan is to have eight teams playing a spring schedule as part of a single entity structure.
Some early major rule tweaks include no kickoffs and no PAT kicks after touchdowns; teams will be required to go for a 2-point conversion.
And on Monday, Alex Marvez of Sporting News reported that big names such as Steve Spurrier, Mike Singletary and Jeff Fisher were being targeted as potential coaches.
But beyond that, here are the two things that stand out to me.
One, the AAF already has a TV deal with CBS, which will show a game on opening day (Saturday, February 9) as well as the championship game at the end of April.
The rest of the contests can be seen on CBS Sports Network or a free “Alliance App.”
And two, aside from former Buffalo Bills GM Bill Polian, the league is co-founded by TV and film producer Charlie Ebersol – son of Dick Ebersol, who happened to run the old XFL along with McMahon. The younger Ebersol actually did the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary about that failed venture, “This Was The XFL.”
Beating Vince to his second football punch should make for some spirited conversation the next time the Ebersols and McMahons have a play date.
According to the AAF website:
“Players will have state-of-the-art protection on the field and ample opportunities off it. The Alliance will provide players a comprehensive bonus system, post-football career planning as well as counseling and scholarship support for postsecondary education.”
That’s great, but it doesn’t matter to fans if all the AAF alums go on to get doctorates and gain acceptance into Mensa International. The key for ticket buyers and viewers is whether or not it’ll be fun to watch.
As is the case with every proposed spring circuit since the United States Football League, players targeted will be those who can’t find work with NFL teams. And after listening to Polian do the media rounds, it’s obvious this will be the proverbial “second chance league.” For those who can parlay an AAF gig into another NFL shot, more power to them.
So what are its odds of success?
Spring is a season of growth, but it has proven to be mostly barren for pro football apart from the USFL (1983-85).
It threw big money at big names, and was carving out a decent niche until New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump convinced the rest of the owners to move to the fall and file an antitrust suit against the NFL in hopes of snagging a financial windfall.
We all know how that turned out, and there hasn’t been an NFL spring league “challenger” since that has even sniffed at stability.*
*The World League of American Football/NFL Europe/NFL Europa was a spring league that lasted from 1991 to 2007, except for a break in 1993-94, but had teams in North America for just its first two seasons. It received funding from the NFL and served as a developmental league.
Now to be fair, you don’t need the best talent in the world to have a viable product.
Great high school teams aren’t on the same level as good college squads, and college players aren’t as skilled as professionals.
That doesn’t mean a game can’t be wildly entertaining, regardless of whether you watch it on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
But there are certain expectations when it comes to pro football, and when it’s considered “minor league,” it carries a stigma – fairly or not. Plus, I’m not sure there’s a real appetite for football from February through June anymore; perhaps fans aren’t in love with the game as much as they used to be. So aside from a few rule changes, this latest entry in offseason football really isn’t breaking ground that hasn’t already been broken time and time again.
Still, when it comes to the AAF, I wish it well, just as I give my well wishes to Pac Pro Football and all upstart leagues.
They provide more jobs for more people, and that’s a good thing.
And if, in fact, the league debuts as scheduled, I’ll watch it as long as I’m entertained.
There’s no harm in giving it a chance, even if I think its chances of survival are slim.