Why Spring League Football Doesn’t Work

Image Courtesy of CBS Sports

By Jack Cherico

Before the NFL became the behemoth it was today, it was not the only game in town. Other football leagues popped up to try and make a name for themselves. These leagues are the XFL, AAF, AFL, and the USFL, to name a few. 

These leagues tried to introduce a new league for football fans to watch when the NFL was in its offseason. However, all of these leagues and more, have failed miserably. These leagues have had financial backing, a good concept, and people who love watching football. So why do they fail? Is it because of a lack of creative ideas that offer a different viewing experience than the NFL? 

I don’t think so. More than a year ago, in February of 2021, I published an article for the tower titled ”What Is ‘Fan Controlled Football’?” The Fan-Controlled Football League introduced a system where fans vote on plays that the teams execute. Although the league is still operational, it gets slim to no press, and some people forget it exists due to the short season and streaming-only viewership platform. 

The most recent football league to pop up, the United States Football League (USFL), was originally a league in the 1980s that featured future NFL stars like Jim Kelly, Steve Young, and Reggie White. The old USFL folded after three seasons (1983 through 1985), and a new USFL started in March of 2022. What makes the USFL different from all these other failed leagues? 

The answer is nothing; the USFL is no different from its predecessors and will fail financially in a few years, tops. I know that sounds cynical, but this isn’t that crazy of an assumption. The main issue that plagues startup football leagues today is not a lack of money or interest; it is the quality of play. Football fans enjoy watching good football, with exciting games and star players that make incredible plays. The USFL consists of 8 teams, with a 38-man active roster and a 7-man practice squad. 

While skimming the rosters, the most notable player that I saw was former Denver Broncos first-round pick Paxton Lynch, a quarterback from the University of Memphis whom the Michigan Panthers of the USFL drafted. Lynch threw for four touchdowns and four interceptions in five NFL games, leading his team to a 1-3 record in the games he started. I am sure Lynch just was not a right fit in Denver, but if I am a USFL commissioner, my first choice for a star player would not be a guy who has not started an NFL game since 2017. This lack of star talent will be the downfall of the USFL and any other league that will eventually pop up. 

The only way a spring league football league would be sustainable and prosperous is if the NFL uses the league as a developmental league. This approach would be similar to the NBA G League, in which NBA teams have farm teams that develop younger and less skilled players. 

If the NFL loans their prospect players or journeyman veteran players who need a change of scenery to succeed, everyone wins. The fans get to watch football for longer, the games have stakes, and the players can earn a starting spot on an NFL team. Logistically, there is a lot to be desired to make this proposal happen, but plain and straightforward, the USFL will not work with its current model. 

Hopefully, some good will come out of the league regarding players making their mark, such as Davin Bellamy, a defensive end who played college football at Georgia having three sacks against the Philadelphia stars. Stellar performances like Bellamy’s can show the NFL that certain players deserve a shot, but unfortunately, the USFL will fail like every other startup football league before it.

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