Television executive Charlie Ebersol and former NFL Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian have announced the formation of a new football league, The Alliance of American Football which will begin after next season’s Super Bowl, a full year before the much anticipated (insert eye-roll here) return of the XFL. Interesting timing to say the least. I wonder if Vince McMahon knew this was coming? After all, Charlie Ebersol is Dick’s son.
You know, Dick Ebersol, the former NBC Sports Chairman who co-founded the original failed version of the XFL with McMahon. Charlie also directed the “30 for 30” episode “This Was the XFL,” which was for him the story of his father and his father’s best friend failing spectacularly. The three of them had a private viewing together. But apparently, Dick is not involved in the XFL reboot because wait for it…he’s on the board of directors for the Alliance. They know exactly what they’re doing and to whom they’re doing it.
Now, most people would argue that there isn’t room for even one more football league, much less two. And the XFL was lambasted mostly for low-quality play because using NFL cast-offs does not make for compelling competition no matter how many gimmicks are employed. But the Alliance is using real football people to boost the level of play, with guys like the aforementioned Bill Polian, and former players like Troy Polamalu, Jared Allen, Hines Ward and Justin Tuck. This feels like a real football league as opposed to the cheesy entertainment we are all expecting from XFL 2.0. Vince should probably just fold up shop right now and stop throwing good money after bad. There’s no way the XFL can compete.
But even if the XFL disappears again, I still don’t think there is a market for even one alternate league because the NFL has, and will continue to have all of the top tier players. There is just no way to get fans invested in new players, on new teams, in a new league that produces an inferior product. I can’t see how they can make any real money but, believe it or not, I think the Alliance can still be a success. And at the same time, we can fix what I consider to be an issue that has plagued football (and basketball) for years: professional sports using the NCAA as a minor league system. The NFL should swoop up the Alliance, merge it with NFL Europe and create the first true developmental league for football. Then we can change the rules for football players to resemble those used for baseball. A student-athlete must commit to at least three years if they decide to attend college, or they can be drafted out of high school and play in the minors. If the NFL has a developmental league, this will give athletes, who cannot or don’t want to jump through the hoops of the NCAA amateurism, the chance to become a professional athlete.
This will raise the level of players for the Alliance and make it more watchable. That is unlikely to be enough to make it truly profitable, but baseball’s minor leagues are hardly raking it in hand over fist. It’s an investment in potential. It would make the NFL stronger, and the quality of play would be better if you have professionals, affiliated with NFL teams, in charge of the development of future players instead of relying on the NCAA to teach them the necessary skills to compete professionally. And with the NFL subsidizing and promoting the Alliance, they can survive long term.
I’ve long believed a developmental league for the NFL is overdue. It just makes too much sense and would benefit the players, the NFL and the NCAA. The NCAA would no longer need to worry so much about improper benefit scandals or trying to push athletes through a curriculum they have no interest in just to keep them academically eligible and maintain the farce of amateur athletics (not sure how you can call a multi-billion dollar industry “amateur”). The athletes wouldn’t be forced to go to school when they may not have an aptitude or desire for academic study and still have an avenue to become an NFL player if they are good enough. They’d have a choice. As it is now, if you don’t play college football, you simply aren’t getting to the NFL, ever. And the NFL would get a platform to develop their own talent more effectively than any college can. It works for baseball. It works for European soccer leagues. It is starting to happen with the G League for the NBA. We all know the “one-and-done” rule is going away soon. It’s time for the NFL to get onboard.