The Sisyphean Effort to Make Spring Pro Football Sustainable

Since my childhood memories of the Michigan Panthers being the only occupant of the old Pontiac Silverdome to win a championship during that era, I hoped in vain to see the United States Football League become a mainstay for professional football in North America during the spring. Unfortunately, the USFL eventually collapsed under its weight of mismanagement, avarice, and unrealistic expectations after three seasons were completed.

            When the late Lamar Hunt was the central figure in the creation of the American Football with his colleagues known as the “Foolish Club” in 1959 due to an apparent aversion of the National Football League to expand too quickly (He was also precluded from purchasing the Chicago Cardinals), the subsequent quest of these loggerheads attempting to countervail each other resulting in a merger between the two leagues perforce has often been romanticized over the decades. Nabobs have continued to mimic Hunt’s efforts with a litany of failed professional football leagues that were shrouded for failure seemingly minutes following these organizations’ formation.

            For the USFL, league governance did have a decent product to market, but they were competing against the traditions of Major League Baseball as well as the established Titanolatry that the NFL (especially by the late Pete Rozelle) so carefully crafted that it was nearly impossible for the organization to be fiscally solvent. Also, the USFL had to over-compensate players just to remain relevant while MLB, NCAA Tournament, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Playoffs, and The Masters were underway.

            Once the USFL announced that their intention to compete directly with the NFL in the fall and attempted a Hail Mary lawsuit against them simultaneously, the prospects for the United States Football League’s existence was doomed, especially following the aftermath of the Pyrrhic victory of the antitrust lawsuit with a $1 verdict time three. The NFL absorbed all of the available talent to help fortify their rosters. Sadly, the USFL had franchises in markets that were performing better than some of their NFL counterparts; teams like the Detroit Lions, Baltimore Colts, and New Orleans Saints were not all-world at the time.)

            Recently, the announcement of a resurrected United States Football League hoping to commence play in 2022 provided a modicum of nostalgia for some of us. While I have generally believed that competition often fosters an overall better product and expanded compensation, I am, however, reluctant to completely embrace the prospects of another football league because of the cynical nature of football fans today.  As soon as anyone dons the habiliments of the gridiron, immediately obtuse ideologues try to measure a fledgling organization against the National Football League, which is completely unrealistic.

            Any football league (USFL part II, XFL part III, et cetera) will have to let the public know that whether they are going to be just an alternative, a potential competitor to the NFL, or become a minor league feeder system to the NFL immediately so that reasonable expectations can be established. Most pundits expect these organizations will develop into a minor league system for the NFL.

The problem is that the NFL attempted to create their version of this system with the formation of the World League of American Football fielding teams in North America and Europe in 1991 (later becoming NFL Europe), but the endeavor would cease operations by 2007. I guess it did not help when one broadcaster from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation once referred to the league as “We Laugh.”

Nevertheless, there is no credible evidence to support the notion that the American public has enough interest or the attention span to focus on professional football in the spring with all of the various distractions available to them in this era. If Major League Baseball is having difficulty keeping fans locked in, I do not imagine them having the commitment to watch another football league when they barely recognize the names of players/coaches on the rosters. It takes significant time to establish a fan base. Are we willing to change our attitudes regarding alternative football leagues enough for them to last longer than goldfish from the carnival?