This weekend a new professional football league will kick off their inaugural season. The Alliance of American Football (AAF) opens business with teams in Atlanta, Orlando, Memphis, Birmingham, San Antonio, Salt Lake City, San Diego and Phoenix. The AAF is hoping to fill the football void now that the National Football League (NFL) season is over. This new league isn’t the first to try playing during the NFL’s offseason. Several other leagues have tried and failed.
The United States Football League (USFL) was probably the most successful spring football league which was not associated with the NFL. The played three seasons from 1983-1985. The league made an immediate impact as they signed some of the top college talent when they signed three consecutive Heisman Trophy winners Herschel Walker, Doug Flutie and Mike Rozier. Other notable players/coaches included: George Allen, Jim Kelly, Marv Levey, Steve Young and Reggie White. The only radical rule difference was that the USFL adopted the two-point conversion. The NFL did not start the two-point conversion until 1994.
Most people say that the reason that the league failed was when Donald Trump became owner of the New Jersey Generals and pushed for the league to move to a fall schedule to compete with the NFL. The USFL also filed antitrust lawsuit against the NFL and won the suit but was only awarded $3.76 in damages. The league was not able to recover and folded before it could move to the fall in 1986. Many football experts feel that if the USFL had not deviated from their spring schedule that they would have lasted longer.
Perhaps the most successful off-season league was when the NFL backed the World League of American Football/NFL-Europe. The league kicked off as the World League of American Football (WLAF) in 1991 with ten (10) teams in North America, Canada and Europe. This league served mostly as a developmental league for the NFL. After the 1992 season, the league suspended play for two seasons. The league had better success with their Europe franchises than those in North America so when the league returned for the 1995 season, the league focused more on the European teams. In 1998 they changed the league name to NFL-Europe. Unfortunately, the league was terminated after the 2007 season at the league was losing about $30 million a season.
The first edition of the XFL played in the spring/summer of 2001. The league was the idea of WWE guru Vince McMahon. The league only lasted one season. The league was known more about entertainment rather than the quality of play on the field. The XFL secured a television contract with NBC after that network lost their NFL games. The XFL had some interesting rules such as the opening scramble instead of a coin toss to determine possession. Players lined up at their 30-yard line and raced to recover the ball at midfield. The XFL also eliminated the kick for point after touchdowns with the option of a one, two or three-point conversions depending on distance from the goal line. If a punt travel at least 25 yards, the kicking team could recover to gain possession. There was also no fair catches allowed. After losing $35 million dollars, the league folded after one season. The new XFL is scheduled to come back in 2020.
A couple of other leagues failed to kickoff. One was called the Professional Spring Football League (PSFL). The league was scheduled to begin in 1992 with ten teams. Each team had already been in training camp and trimming down their rosters in preparation for the season. The league folded just 10 days before the season opener. The league’s championship game was to be called the “Red, White and Blue Bowl” and was scheduled to be played at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC on July 5, 1992.
Another rather interesting attempt was called the All American Football League (AAFL) which was scheduled to start in the spring of 2007. The league was hoping to appeal to college football fans with teams located in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Michigan, Tennessee and Texas. The teams would play in college football stadiums during the spring and players had to have a four-year university degree to be eligible to play. Teams also did not have nicknames but instead adopted their home state logo for their helmets. On March 13, 2008 the league announced that the 2008 season would not take place and hoped to begin in 2009; however, they never got off the ground. It was reported that the league lost some of their major investors which led to the demise of the proposed league.
It is hard to say whether or not the AFF will succeed where these other leagues failed. Many of the cities have been burned repeatedly by failed teams and leagues of the past. It will be a difficult sell. It is very difficult for leagues to survive the finances needed to sustain them. With the AAF working with the NFL, this could be a significant advantage. Places franchises in cities without an NFL franchise is also a good idea. Only two of the AAF’s eight teams (Atlanta and Arizona) play in current NFL markets.
Personally, I don’t feel like this league will fare differently than any of the other leagues before them. Although football is a popular sport here in America, I think most fans need a break from their sport to recover and get ready for the next season. Mentally most fans need a break from it. If the NFL truly wants a developmental league, they need to partner with a league which plays during the same time like minor leagues operate in the baseball. I have always felt that an “NFL2” league could operate in non-NFL cities as a developmental league for the NFL. The championship game could be called the “SuperCup” and played the week before the Super Bowl and eliminate the Pro Bowl.