A (Minor) League of Their Own
For years now, I’ve been waiting for a functional minor league for the NFL. “Every other league has one,” I thought, “why not the NFL?” The idea makes sense for a million reasons. I’ll list all of them, or five.
1. MONEY$$$!!!!! If there’s one thing that you can say about the NFL, it’s that they are great at making money and aren’t shy about forcing the issue in order to do it. (Think of Thursday night football, which is exclusively on NFL network…which you have to pay for) If the NFL can come up with a true farm system, people will watch it. Baseball, America’s pastime is past it’s prime. America is a football country now. The numbers don’t lie. So, with viewership comes all of the beauties of having additional franchises: merchandise! Jerseys, flags, shirts, snuggies…whatever the hell you want to stamp that logo on. (I can hear Goodell drooling as Dan Snyder charges fans a five dollar oxygen usage fee)
2. A minor league would develop more talent. Just this year, the NFL increased the number of players allowed on a pre-season roster from 80 to 90. After the rosters were slimmed down to 53 and and additional 8 players were signed to the practice squad, 928 players were on the street. That’s 17 additional teams right there with a few extra players to spare. The NFL already understands that some players need time to develop. That’s why they allow players 3 years on the practice squad as is. Take Dallas Reynolds for example. Reynolds was on the Eagles practice squad during the ’09, ’10, and ’11 campaigns. This season, he finally made the roster and is now the Eagles starting center. Guys like Reynolds would be able to play in real games and lessen the growing pains of playing in an NFL game if they were to be called up.
3. Teams could shift players to their minor league teams without the risk of having those players signed by other clubs. For example, NHL players have two way contracts and can be shifted from the major to minor leagues in an instant. With the current system in the NFL, players must be cut and cleared on waivers before they may join a practice squad. As a result, teams lose players that they liked (Julian Vandevelde), and may keep players on the roster that likely won’t play, but wouldn’t clear waivers (Chris Polk).
4. Rule changes: The NFL is always tinkering with the rules in order to fine tune the game. However, with some of the more major changes like moving kick-offs from the 30 the 35, the NFL would be able to see how the changes work when put into effect without changing the top league.
5. More officials: As everyone is now painfully noticing. Officiating an NFL game is not an easy job. So, by having more officials reffing minor league games, the league would be able to have a farm system for officials as well and guarantee that NFL games are properly officiated.
Like I said before getting that out of my system, I’ve been looking for an NFL developmental league for some time. I remember when I first heard of the UFL starting up a few years ago. I was telling everyone about it. “It’s not going to be like the XFL!” I promised. Despite the small size of the league, only 4 teams, I believed that they had set up a solid foundation. All of the head coaches (Jim Fassel, Dennis Green, Jim Haslett, and Ted Cottrell) were formerly of the NFL and had enjoyed success to some degree. In addition, there were rumblings that UFL was planning to develop a bit and then get gobbled up by the NFL. It sounded great to me, but I then saw the first bad omen. The uniforms.
Oof. Have you ever seen so many ugly things in one room? I had to wear sunglasses just to look at the picture. If you learn anything from those uniforms it’s one thing: never use acid.
Eventually some NFL players did trickle down to the UFL. However, the UFL attempted to force players from signing with the NFL until the end of the season and even went as far as charging players a transfer fee. Eventually, marginal NFL players became wary of the league and now I honestly can’t name a single person in the UFL. The UFL during that time had also expanded to six teams, but has collapsed down to 4 and appears to be on it’s last legs.
It’s not the first league to fail. The USFL folded in 1987 the XFL had a single season in 2001 and even NFL Europre, the NFL’s experimental development league, folded in 2007. But just because a minor league failed in Europe shouldn’t mean that the NFL has to give up on a minor league. The demand is there and plenty of cities would love to host a minor league team. What’s the hold up, Rog?