Written by Steven Vitte
Throughout history professional football leagues have come and gone, with the main exception of the National Football League standing tall. There have been attempts made to establish other professional football leagues, but because of a few costly mistakes that were made, these other leagues ultimately folded. In the case of the original United States Football League (USFL), which started operations in 1982 and folded in 1987, had developed a series of issues with mismanagement, such as expanding their league too fast, playing regular season games in the spring season, and most importantly, winning their antitrust lawsuit against the NFL which gave them $5.5 Million in attorney fees and $62,000 in court costs. Eventually accumulating $160 Million in debt, the USFL in 1990 would receive a single check for $3.76, a symbol of their “Pyrrhic Victory”.
Going back a decade to 1973, the World Football League was created, but soon folded in 1974. One of the main problems that plagued the WFL was the fact that team owners had disagreed on which playoff format to use. Numerous playoff ideas were tossed around and the owners struggled to settle on one idea. Another main problem was that the WFL constantly lost money, especially in the case of their franchise based in the state of Hawaii, The Hawaiians, which lost $3.2 Million in the 1974 season. The WFL also had difficulties holding a draft for college players wanting to join the league. They didn’t have enough money to seek out top college prospects, so they instead gave their teams rights to draft players out of existing teams in the NFL and the Canadian Football League. The WFL closed its doors before Week 13 could be played in the 1975 regular season.
The XFL is probably the most infamous example of a failure in creating a professional football league. Founded in 1999, the Xtreme Football League folded in 2001 after just 1 season. Criticized for having too many gimmicky rules, having ties to Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment, and mainly for the underwhelming level of professional talent that took the field. A few examples of the gimmicky rules include the Opening Scramble where one player from each team would race side-by-side from the 30-yard line to be the first to pick up the football at the 50-yard line to gain possession of the ball. There were also no PATs (point after touchdown) kicks, but instead teams had to run a play on offense to score a 1-point conversion. As opposed to the NFL’s 40-second play clock, the XFL had a 35-second play clock in an attempt to speed up the game. The XFL was also known for allowing players to use their nicknames on the back of their jerseys.
From one extreme to another, the United Football League was founded in 2007, began operations in 2009 and folded in 2012 after 4 seasons. However, unlike other football leagues, the UFL was utilized as more of a minor league development league that would cater to the NFL, implementing rules such as “illegal defense” where only 4 to 6 defensive players were allowed to blitz the quarterback. This rule was in place to both protect the quarterback and put more emphasis on scoring points. The quarterback was also allowed to intentionally ground the ball in order to avoid a sack in the UFL, as long as he threw the ball back to the line of scrimmage. The problem with the UFL, however, was that many football fans saw the UFL as too plain, ordinary and vanilla.
So from the examples noted above, what exactly will it take to create a professional football league that will stick around for longer than a cup of coffee? In my opinion, I wouldn’t know where to begin, but there are a few things that I believe anyone would need to consider before taking on this task.