Each professional sports league has some form of developmental structure to help develop players. Major League Baseball (MLB) has the minor league system as does the National Hockey League (NHL) while the National Basketball Association (NBA) has the “D-League”. The National Football League (NFL) has been lacking in this area for many years. The league has basically counted on college football as it’s developmental league but there have been attempts at a minor league for the NFL. Several years ago there was the United Football League (UFL) but no one watched or cared. It passed without anyone noticing. There was also the Fall Experimental Football League (FXFL) but it was an experiment that didn’t have much of a chance. Some view the Canadian Football League (CFL) as some form of minor league but it usually ends up being the last stop for players who didn’t make it in the NFL. The NFL was involved in an international developmental league when it backed the World League of American Football (WLAF) which eventually became NFL Europe but it just doesn’t appeal to European sports fans as the game does here.
Now a new league is going to make an attempt at this effort. The league is called the Pacific Pro Football League and plans to launch next summer with four teams based in Southern California. Former NFL head coach Mike Shanahan serves on the league’s advisory board. It all sounds good but not much different than what has been done before. Four teams all based in Southern California? Sounds more like rec league football to me.
I have always envisioned a full-blown developmental league. Each NFL team would get their own team in what I call “NFL2” so there would be 32 developmental teams in this league. I still debate whether this league would work better as a fall or spring league. There is a lot of competition in the fall; however, NFL2 teams could grab markets which currently do not have an NFL team and play on Sundays just like the NFL. It doesn’t seem to cause a problem with Major League Baseball.
Where would I put teams in the NFL2 league I am proposing? I’m thinking of cities such as: Orlando, Memphis, Birmingham, Columbus (Ohio), Milwaukee, San Antonio, Austin, Salt Lake City, St. Louis, San Diego, Sacramento, Portland as well as other teams that would meet the right requirements to field a franchise. I would break them up into regions and have them play 14-game schedules and lead up to the championship game called the “SuperCup” to be played the week before the Super Bowl.
I think there are a lot of players out there who could get their chance in this league. Cities such as St. Louis and San Diego should have a team. I have read where there is a petition by fans in St. Louis for a CFL team but I’m not sure that will happen since the CFL already tried – and failed – with expansion to markets in the United States.
You also wouldn’t have to necessarily limit the league to just 32 teams. If successful, the league could evolve into a true minor league structure and even include smaller markets in AAA, AA and A levels. There are plenty of players out there that could fill the rosters.
Last year, 16,175 college football players were eligible for the NFL draft. Only 256 of them were drafted. I think a developmental football league backed or managed by the NFL would create more opportunities for those who have talent which can be developed. It would also give football fans in non-NFL cities a professional football team to support and maybe a new avenue of interest in the NFL.