There is a classic “David and Goliath” feel when a new professional football league tries to plant their flag in today’s sports world. The new league is always David, and the NFL—you guessed it, Goliath.
We’ve seen it just this year.
The Alliance of American Football, albeit an initial success, tried to market itself as a “second chance” league for players, many of whom not good enough to crack NFL practice squads in 2018. The first week was a hit, much to do with CBS and the NFL assisting in broadcasting and marketing the matchups. I mean, who doesn’t love football after the Super Bowl?
Unfortunately, the novelty faded faster than John (formerly Johnny) Manziel’s career. Fast forward two weeks, they struggled to meet payroll commitments. In comes Carolina Hurricanes (NHL) owner Tom Dundon to the $250 million-rescue. Another five weeks go by, and the doors are closed indefinitely. Don’t worry, if you didn’t watch you didn’t miss much. The play on the field was subpar at best.
2001 was no different.
In the late 90s, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon came up with the glorious idea to sell football with professional wrestling-style theatrics. After a high-dollar partnership with NBC, they were off to the races. As the old adage goes: Same crap, different day. After just one season of horrific on-field play and abysmal viewership, NBC pulled out of the deal and the XFL was forced to fold (for the first time).
Kaput. Sayonara. Adios. Gone-zo.
2020 will see the revival of a more polished and high-brow XFL, but few things thus far have led me to believe it will be any different than the rest. The AAF said they had it figured out. They didn’t. Vince McMahon said he had it figured out. He didn’t. What seems to be the problem keeping us from our desired football gluttony?
They’re fighting the wrong fight.
My old man once told me during a day of landscaping at my childhood home to “Work smarter, not harder”. Those trying to develop and cultivate a new structure of football should heed this advice.
Why fight the biggest kid in the room each time? Consider the NFL to be the slightly obese, snot-nosed kid that likes to pick on everyone and never gets in trouble. He never shares his snacks (players) either. Yes, I’m looking at you NFLPA.
So, you take NFL hand-me-downs and guys off the street that wouldn’t sniff an NFL roster and expect great (or even good) football? The true definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. You’re never going to compete with the NFL… but you could feed it.
Consider this scenario: An 18-year old football standout from inner-city Cleveland is deciding his next steps after high school. He has three offers laid out in front of him on a coffee table. One from a second-tier Big Ten school, one from a mid-level ACC school, and one we’ll get to in a minute. Next to him sits his single-mother. A mother, who works two jobs for 60 hours a week to keep the lights on and food in his stomach with little to no reciprocation (not that she would want any other than for him to be happy).
This happens every year in homes all over the country. Up until now, there has really only been one choice despite having two offers on the table from two different universities: Go play in the NCAA if you want a shot at the NFL.
Let’s talk about offer number three.
The third offer on the table is from a “professional preparatory ” football league. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s call it the BIGPLAY Football League or BFL for short.
Contained in this offer is a three-year contract to play in the BFL. Once signed, you enter the upcoming “draft pool” and begin the pre-draft process of combines, workouts, meeting with teams, etc.
All players receive a flat-rate salary that is based upon the position they’re drafted as. There could even be some built-in bonuses for certain performance thresholds. Either way, as a member of the BFL, you get X% of your specific jersey sales, X% of TV rights revenue, and X% of ticket sales revenue in addition to your salary. So, your ancillary monies are directly based off of your performance. If you’re a star, people will want to wear your jersey and see you play, which means more cash for you.
In addition to the money from the BFL itself, you’re free to negotiate and carry out any endorsements you can get your hands on. The BFL will also bring in experts to teach “classes” in professional development, financial management, and conflict resolution in efforts to avoid situations similar to Ray Rice and Kareem Hunt.
The BFL isn’t designed to bring you a fortune. It’s designed for you to make a great living doing what you love, and ultimately still have that chance of earning a big payday at the professional level. How many NCAA athletes would like the opportunity to make money using their talents?
The answer: Every single one of them.
Do you know what you get when you sign your three-year minimum deal to play in the NCAA? Zero dollars. Nothing. Nada. And, as an added bonus, if alumni member John Doe who owns the local burger joint gives you a free hamburger and you get caught, you’re subject to forfeiting your amateurism.
NCAA apologists will stand on the “you get a free education with room and board” soapbox, but I find that to be a tired and lazy take. I too was on that bandwagon at one time, but vicariously saw first hand through a family member the struggles and tribulations of the NCAA DI football player. It’s like working a job, getting no pay for that job, and then having to go to class for the right to keep that job (that doesn’t pay).
The NCAA made $1.06 billion in revenue in 2016-2017.
But hey, you got a really cool team jumpsuit and the opportunity to sit in those classes and take tests for free.
The season in which the BFL plays in should also be considered in this concept. Spring football leagues are at a disadvantage for a number of reasons. Foremost, is the television ratings battle it wages with March Madness, MLB’s season starting up, and the NBA and NHL playoffs. The solution? The dog days of Summer. Once the MLB All-Star break fades away, sports fans wander aimlessly for the next eight to ten weeks waiting for baseball’s postseason and the start of the NFL season. This would be a welcomed filler for the most dead time of the year, and would prime football fans for what’s to come on the professional gridiron.
I’m well aware of the fact that this is a very rough and non-granular idea of what a “preparatory professional ” football league system could look like. There are far more intelligent people that could run through the specifics and, in my eyes, turn this concept into an operational being.
Right now the NBA is considering going back to letting high school players jump to the NBA via their age rule. That simply wouldn’t work in the NFL. Players from 18-21 are typically not physically, emotionally, or mentally prepared for the grind that is the National Football League.
Major League Baseball has had a system like this for years with little to no issue. Each player (if drafted) has the option of going to college after high school or going straight into a farm system.
There would be no right or wrong choice between the two options, college or BFL. Even for the non-athlete, this decision comes for most people at 18 or 19 years old. You either enter the workforce or go to college.
The BFL would be an opportunity for elite athletes to earn, in many cases, life-changing income for their families immediately upon high school graduation, and still grant them the chance of achieving their ultimate dream of being drafted to the NFL.
Should the NFL find a willing partner to adopt this concept as their system, it would be a game-changer in the world of professional football forever. This concept, married with the NFL’s reach and access to television rights and sponsorship partners could be a lethal combination.
That young athlete sitting on the couch with a struggling family would think twice about that third offer, I can assure you that much.