The NFL is usually ahead of the curve when compared to other American sports leagues, but it lags behind in terms of cultivating a minor or developmental league. That may soon be changing.
According to Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com, 40-year-old sports attorney Brian Woods intends to launch a new league called the "Fall Experimental Football League" in September.
Although the league has no affiliation with the NFL yet, Woods believes a future relationship makes sense for both parties:
There's no mystery there needs to be a developmental league. I think the challenging part is coming up with a business model and design it properly. I've spent a lot of time researching this. I've looked closely at the NBA Developmental League and at Minor League Baseball. We've come a long way in a very short period of time. We're financially backed and ready to launch this fall.
Woods says the league has some big-time investors and is already in discussion for a potential television deal. The current plan is for franchises to reside in New York, Orlando, Omaha, Portland, Boston and either Memphis or San Antonio. A six-game schedule with games taking place Wednesday nights is envisioned as well.
The main idea is that young players cut prior to the NFL season would benefit from the FXFL because they could continue to ply their trade and essentially audition for NFL teams once injuries inevitably strike.
There could be some skepticism since previous developmental ventures like NFL Europe have failed, but Woods is confident this will be different:
That was not very cost-effective. They played in big venues, and shipped the players out (overseas). I think the best structure is a developmental league that plays in the fall, not in the spring. This again is the benefit – play on weeknights, use a cost-containment model, play in minor league baseball venues.
The FXFL has already caught the eye of several people within the pro football business, including NFL.com's Ian Rapoport:
@GOFXFL interesting….— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 16, 2014
Gerry DiNardo of the Big Ten Network stressed the importance of such a league to help players who go undrafted:
Nearly 40 % of underclassmen go undrafted. Need Pro Football developmental league in America XFL etc. NFL should take this project on.— Gerry DiNardo (@gerrydinardo) May 12, 2014
Player development would be the main benefit, but a developmental league would also allow the NFL to test out rule changes before actually enacting them.
According to Grossi, Woods is considering a number of innovative changes such as different point-after-touchdown rules and the elimination of punts.
The NHL was successful in testing shootouts and new icing rules in the American Hockey League before ultimately adopting them, and the NFL would be wise to try something similar.
Does the NFL need a developmental league?
It would behoove the NFL to sit back and see how the FXFL plays out initially in order to determine whether it fits with its business model, but the concept itself makes a lot of sense.
Current players who get released are forced to go to leagues like the Arena Football League or the Canadian Football League, and it then becomes difficult for NFL teams to evaluate them.
While the FXFL has a long way to go before it launches and becomes sustainable, there is reason to believe it would be a huge success with NFL backing.
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