Column: Spring football league's point has come ... and mislaid


Dixon envisioned a union with teams in major U.S. markets, playing in NFL-caliber stadiums, ... Major League Soccer didn't come along until 1996.
2022-05-07 07:27:12
Column: Spring football league's point has come ... and mislaid

Now, no matter how much of these leagues posses popping up, there's hardly arise of carving out even a tiny place on the American sports scene.

A revived United States Football League — borrowing the moniker and couple nicknames from a confederation that went out of work 36 years ago — launched last month with all regular-season games being played in Birmingham, Alabama.

USFL, The Sequel is subsequent a familiar formula for hop football in elapsed years: a band of unknown players, sloppy acting and games played in facade of mainly drain seats.

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Sadly, this watered-down version of the USFL has done rarely other than rekindle memories (at least for those of us former enough to remember) of the last upstart group in a major American pastime that actually had a arise to perform it.

The original USFL, which played for three seasons incipient in 1983, was a conception that made a full stockpile of sense, only to be undone by the hubris of owners such as future President Donald Trump, who maxim the fledgling organization chiefly as a main to the NFL.

The band might tranquillity be around today if it had stuck to the design laid out by New Orleans businessman David Dixon, who believed there was a hawk for pro football in the gambol and early summer.

His dream led to a promising setup with plenty of NFL-caliber players.

"I would chat that four teams in our league could retain competed on an NFL level," recalled Tom Banks, a longtime NFL center who played the blessing two seasons with the original Birmingham Stallions. "We had a mound of ethical players and a stack of honest coaches."

Dixon envisioned a confederation with teams in major U.S. markets, playing in NFL-caliber stadiums, boosted by a governmental television affiance but keeping costs under oversee with a pay cap-style mechanism.

The Stallions were a yoke that mainly stuck to that philosophy, assembling a roster that included Banks, running back Joe Cribbs, quarterback Cliff Stoudt and receiver Jim Smith.

The USFL wasn't intended to be a administer challenger to the NFL like those that that came before it, such as the American Football League (which forced a merger with the NFL) and the World Football League (which failed miserably).

But it could've worked — especially given the national of American sports when the USFL debuted:

—The NFL, while enormously popular, had not yet become the year-round behemoth it is today.

—Major League Baseball had yet to magnify to Phoenix, Denver or Tampa Bay, which all landed teams in the original USFL.

—Michael Jordan's NBA debut was tranquillity a year away, and partly half of the league's 23 teams failed to typical even 10,000 fans a pastime in 1982-83.

—The NHL was principally a regional operation, basically unknown exterior the Northeast and Midwest and lacking a major TV deal.

—The North American Soccer League was on its last legs and would district in 1984. Major League Soccer didn't come along until 1996.

In that setting, there was room for another football league.

Spring football has no transpire of succeeding in a timeframe now ruled by the NBA and NHL playoffs, the ignite of baseball season, college basketball's NCAA tournaments and an NFL that never really takes an offseason.

Throw in Major League Soccer, which bequeath grow to 29 teams subsequent year, and the increasing popularity in the U.S. of England's Premier League and Europe's Champions League.

If the USFL had stuck to Dixon's plan, there's a chance it would stillness be around to this day, possibly stifling the node of basketball, hockey and soccer.

Instead, the cooperative expanded too quickly, took in dubious owners and basically sealed its providence with an ill-fated design pushed by Trump and others to manage to the fall and compete directly castigate the NFL.

That led to an anti-trust litigation won by the USFL in 1986, but it was a tunnel victory to chat the least. The jury awarded a single dollar in damages, which was automatically tripled to $3 unbefitting federal law.

The USFL quietly went out of business. Apparently, it never even cashed the assessment the NFL dutifully sent along to tarpaulin the judgment.

Since then, none of the horde efforts to start a bounce football cooperative has been as bold as the original USFL.

The World League of American Football lasted only two seasons with U.S. teams. The original XFL folded after one year. T he Alliance of American Football went out of work after rightful eight weeks. The relaunch of the XFL was short-circuited by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, we own this modern version of the USFL, with a third attempt at the XFL supposedly on dig for 2023 (we're not holding our breath for that one).

The Fox-owned USFL is holding down costs by playing in a single city. But that has created the embarrassing represantation of games not involving the hometown Stallions being played mainly before kinsfolk and friends.

"You've got to draw further relatives to the games," Banks said. "It's got to be depressing for the guys trying to play. You hay off the enthusiasm of the crowds."

Like every fresh caper union since the original USFL, there is no pretense about landing big-time players. These are the leftovers, pure and simple.

"They really haven't emphasized the players," Banks said. "I don't sense very many about these guys individually, and I tranquillity happen the pastime pretty well."

Fox, NBC and their affiliated networks own been jamming four games a weekend down our throats, pumped up by over-the-top announcers trying to con us into believing this is actually a worthwhile pursuit. But the ratings through the top three weeks posses been largely abysmal.

Thanks to the court irony that full off the original USFL, it commit forever be confidential as "The $3 League."

Paul Newberry is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports and more AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://apnews.com/hub/pro-32 and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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