Professional sports in the United States are a funny thing. A sport that goes in circles can entertain millions. A sport as quick and violent as Lacrosse cannot make headway in a culture that loves to see pain being doled out and inflated scoring. A sport loved by the world fails miserably time after time (I must admit I cannot stand soccer either).
Sports leagues are an even more amazing phenomenon. Look at the history of the NBA, MLB, and the NFL. They each seemed to catch a lucky break or get a particularly stellar group of showmen that moved each league into the major three. Is there any room left for competition though? Four football leagues are about to find out.
With the insanity and the incomprehensibility of sport it is impossible to tell which one will make it? Without any of the leagues even playing a single game yet all we can do is look at the known factors and make a guess, ranking each league form bets to worst.
Factor One: The League Name
Best: All-American Football League (AAFL)
The name sounds like a throwback to the days before the NFL had established itself and club teams were playing in hastily plotted fields. People have a weird love of retro, from jerseys to music, so this name definitely comes out on top.
Runner Up: New United States Football League (New USFL)
The name has already been established and older fans remember that players like Warren Moon and John Elway made their name playing in this farm league. This one gets points for familiarity.
Miss Congeniality: United Football League (UFL)
The name sounds a little fake, but it was smart and kept it to three names for a nice three-letter acronym. Still reminds me of the XFL a little bit too much. But it is better than …
Worst: United National Gridiron League (UNGL)
There is an unwritten rule that a league has the one word before the sport and the league synonym. It is the group or collective adjective. United National. What? If it is united then why pick national. If the UFL and the NFL already have your names do not combine them. Also, what is with gridiron? Don’t try and jazz up football. Call it football, anything else and you sound like a jack*ss.
Factor Two: Teams (Markets)
When you consider that this spring football league is going to be getting second- and third-tier talent eight teams seems just about right. The league has plans for teams in strong football markets that generally do not have a MLB team, so local support from fans should be strong.
Runner Up: New United States Football League
The league has impressive plans to have 12 teams and have a business model for a few more. Only three of the markets are going to run into direct competition with baseball (Detroit, Cincinnati, and Los Angeles). For a new spring league so many teams so early could make the average talent level a little too thin when considering the other potential football leagues, spoiling the first impression.
Miss Congeniality: All-American Football League
This league only has six teams to start, but has followed suit with the rest of the spring leagues and tried to open in markets that love football. The Michigan team in Detroit and the Texas team in Houston put two thirds of the league in direct competition with baseball. The Astros and the Tigers may not be the most popular in MLB, but they have a solid base at the very least. The other issue is that six teams might be too few teams to start with. It makes the league seem light.
Worst: United Football League
Four teams. This league has four teams. This is not a league, it is a round-robin competition.
Factor Three: Schedule
Best: All-American Football League
Whatever my misgivings about starting with only six teams, a 10-game schedule seems perfect. Each team gets a couple of chances to play each other. There are not so many games that a lull will kill the middle of the season. Also, the playoffs pit the second and third best teams against each other for the right to play the team with the best record in the championship. In short, it is a nice concise playoff system.
Runner Up: New United States Football League
This league came in second because of the other terrible two schedules. This league wants to have a 16 game regular season. The NFL with its top talent can get a little boring with 16 games. Sub par talent and the same number of games could be unbearable. The long shot is that the teams will have found a rhythm by the end of the season and have a nice. I do not see it happening though, with injuries and players being distracted by the looming NFL season.
Miss Congeniality: United National Gridiron League
I do not even know how many games this league is going to have. All I know is that eight teams will finish a regular season in two months. Essentially the regular season is an NFL preseason camp. I know sports often times draw out schedules to squeeze every dollar out of the fan and that kills the game a little bit, but a league should at least run for three months to make any kind of impression on fans that are busy with mundane, time-consuming, everyday life stuff.
Worst: United Football League
Considering the league is only starting with four teams a six-game regular season is not too bad. The bad part is that each team will have two homes. A primary home will have two home games and a secondary home will have a single home game. What? In order to build and maintain an interest a team needs to have a single home. It’s kind of like a relationship. A guy cannot have a main girlfriend and a girl on the side and expect to develop a long term relationship with both.
Also the most damaging factor is that the league is trying to run against the NFL and college football with games on Thursdays and Fridays during the late summer and early fall. Epic Fail. Fans will saving for Giants tickets or even a 49ers game first with this league being an just after thought.
Factor 4: Economic Plan
Best: United Football League
While the specifics for these potential leagues and their salary structures are unknown, what is known is that the UFL is actually going to have a salary cap of $20 million. That means that some players might actually make $1 million a year. The fact that the league is willing to put some serious money on the table is a huge plus. If the UFL can get a decent television contract and the plan to sell stock in the teams so the fans can have a personal and financial stake in the team, then this league might actually have a future.
Worst: All-American Football League
This league was supposed to be up and running in the spring of 2007. Two years later it appears to finally be getting off the ground. This is a bad omen. The good news is the players salaries. The league said that is was planning to pay year-long player employees $100,000 a year and season only players $50,000. Those are actually higher salaries than the AFL was paying. Also, the league has a deal with the NFL Network in the works. Of course, the question is do enough people subscribe to the all football channel to make it a valuable contract?
Unknowns: UNGL and USFL
Not enough about these leagues is known to make any kind of a serious or even mocking assessment of their future.
Factor Five: Rules
Best: AAFL, UFL, UNGL
Keeping football football.
Worst: New United States Football League
This league is trying to intrigue fans with a number of new rules much in the same vein as the XFL. Why? There is no need to make field goals 51 yards or more out worth four points, there is no reason to make safeties worth four points, and there is no reason offer a three-point conversion from ten yards out. I do not mind the college football overtime rules or the no touchbacks on kickoffs, but these are small changes that are overshadowed by the pointless change of classic football rules.