Dating back to my love affair with the World Football League (1974-75), I’ve had an affinity for little leagues that thought they could but, ultimately, couldn’t.
It’s nothing personal against the National Football League – if you want to watch professional football featuring the largest number of talented players on the field at one time, the NFL is your one-stop shop.
Still, American outdoor football leagues that give players a chance to make a buck outside “The League” are near and dear to my heart.
I loved the United States Football League, which had at least one team (Philadelphia/Baltimore) that could’ve been competitive in the organization that annually plays for the Lombardi Trophy. In fact, no “rival” league in the last 30 years has been as good.
The USFL might still be around had it stuck to a spring/summer schedule.
The World League of American Football, which became NFL Europe, which became NFL Europa, which became extinct, was a decent brand of Double A minor league ball.
I even gave the XFL a shot, although the early games I saw were boring and sloppy and I quit it long before Vince McMahon did.
There was also the United Football League; I might be the only person who ever watched it on TV. I actually enjoyed it, but most sports entities require more than one fan to be viable.
The most recent was the Fall Experimental Football League (FXFL), which was a bust.
Yet, any time I hear a new league announced, I get excited because I’m going to get to see new uniforms and new logos – even though I have no illusions that the upstart league will last.
But there’s a pro league set to start next summer, and it might have a real shot.
Because it’s not competing with the NFL – it’s competing with the NCAA.
Under the principles section of the Pacific Pro Football website, there’s 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.”
Translation: Kids who graduate high school and want to play football won’t have to do it at a college. Plus, they’ll get paid – over the table, without a booster in sight.
Various interviews with the movers and shakers involved with Pac Pro suggest players will make approximately $50,000 per season.
That’s not bad, especially considering the inaugural campaign will feature four teams (all based in Southern California) playing an 8-game schedule in July and August.
Certainly, there will be blowback from both the NFL (at first) and big-time college football (for as long as Pac Pro lasts).
The Football Bowl Subdivision and Football Championship Subdivision serve as pretty good minor leagues to the NFL, and the big league won’t want to damage that relationship by cozying up to an insurgent circuit.
But if Pac Pro can survive growing pains and expand – and convince more and more hot-shot prep stars that they can major in football for pay without pretending to major in something else for a scholarship – it could dramatically change the landscape.
Sure, there are a lot of great football players who want a college education, but there are probably a lot more who’d just as soon go to work in a football factory right out of high school.
Just as minor league baseball teams often convince top prospects to forego college, so might Pac Pro.
And there are some smart football people involved, including former NFL coach Mike Shanahan and former NFL vice president of officiating, Mike Pereira.
As with any fledgling league, the chances of survival are iffy.
Regardless of Pac Pro’s potential, people still have to pay to watch and advertisers have to make sure there are enough people willing to watch on TV (or whatever platform is used to spread the Pac Pro gospel).
Yet I have to give the new kids credit – of all the leagues that have come and gone, this one has a business model that actually makes sense.
If I’m a player who made good grades in high school and wants to get an engineering degree as well as play football, college is the best path.
But if I struggled in the classroom and have a chance to make an actual living playing football as an 18-year old, the decision is pretty easy.
Starting next summer, we’ll start to find out how many players are willing to make that decision.