(Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Colts)
Talk of Fame Network
Nearly three decades ago the USFL folded after opting to go from a spring football league to one that competed head-to-head with the NFL -- a decision that former USFL executive and 2015 Hall-of-Fame inductee Bill Polian called "a tragic mistake.
But, Polian contended on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, there is a place for spring football – especially if the NFL promotes and funds it. And he has an idea that he believes could boost the quality of the game and maybe, just maybe, be profitable --namely, establish a spring developmental league in the Southeast United States.
“That’s the area of the country that has the most football interest,” said Polian. “It’s also the area of the country that has the most good secondary markets with existing, acceptable stadiums. For example: Birmingham, which we know was a great USFL market; Mobile, which is the site of the Senior Bowl; Memphis; Shreveport; Jackson, Mississippi.
“(It would be a) six-team league, 10-game schedule, plus playoffs; 40-man roster, practice rules that make sense … But there’s a large hurdle relative to the (players’) union. You have to sit down and talk to the union about it and have the lawyers get what can and can’t be done within or without the collective bargaining agreement. But the bottom line is: I think it’s very do-able.
“For someone else to do it … outside the NFL … I’m not sure the return on investment is there as much as it would be for the NFL to do it. But we certainly need it, and we haven’t even talked about the development of minority coaches, minority executives – executives, period, but particularly minorities – (and) officials of all genders.
“One of the great things that (NFL) Europe did was develop a group of officials and improve their officiating. Our officials officiate six months a year. We need them to be officiating at least eight, maybe nine months a year. The more you officiate the better you get. So what better place than a development league.”
Polian worked with the Chicago Blitz in 1984, along with Hall-of-Fame coach Marv Levy, and his experience in the spring league convinced him there’s a place for it. In fact, had the league not decided to move to the fall, he’s convinced it would have stayed in business – one of the reasons he’d like to see a developmental league tried again.
“The basic premise of it worked,” he said. “And the way the calendar was, there was a hiatus between the Super Bowl and the Final Four. And another hiatus between the Final Four and where the baseball season really heated up, which was May. And the USFL filled that void … and fans were excited and interested … and the new markets were emerging -- Birmingham being one.
“I don’t think there’s any question it would have made it. But the movement to the fall, engineered largely by Mr. (Donald) Trump (New Jersey Generals owner), and the acrimony which followed the (USFL vs. NFL) lawsuit doomed it. And it was never going to survive with the NFL. There was no space in which it could survive, and that was a tragic mistake.”