Through Martin rogers
FOX Sports Columnist
There is no contrast in the American sports calendar as stark as that between the period immediately preceding the Super Bowl and the one quickly following it.
From the most exciting time of the sporting year to the quietest, just like that. From the greatest sports game to nothing more than the Daytona 500 – although this year has the Winter Olympics.
And as football – professional and college – seems to take hold a little more deeply in the American psyche from year to year, its absence is felt a little more each time the endless inter-season unfolds.
The United States Football League is aiming to do something about this.
The USFL, which operated on a spring / summer schedule between 1983 and ’85, will try to do a few things upon reincarnation.
While the majority of the rules will come from the NFL model, there will undoubtedly be some innovation, essentially a prerequisite for the spring football startup operations that hope to make an impact.
But more than anything else, the best thing about the USFL is that it will provide football at a time when there is perhaps more hunger than ever before.
Former Oregon, Nebraska and San Diego Chargers head coach Mike Riley, who will lead the New Jersey Generals franchise (the USFL kept their original team names ), appreciates the multiple goals that the league hopes to achieve.
“You’re trying to develop players and teams and win a championship,” Riley told me on Wednesday. “And part of it provides entertainment for football fans who miss it in April, May and June.
“I am very excited about the future of spring football. The fans are enjoying it. The opportunities for the players are there and we are ready to begin. [Sports] had the stop-and-go with COVID – I think there will be a big appetite for it. We just need the opportunity to keep building. The USFL has a great plan with a lot of good people to move this business forward. “
The USFL is now 100 days away from its April 16 start date, but will have key milestones, such as its February 22-23 draft, which will quickly follow the end of the NFL campaign.
The eight-team league announced four of its head coaches on Thursday. In addition to Riley with the Generals, Kevin Sumlin will lead the Houston Gamblers, Todd Haley will lead the Tampa Bay Bandits and Bart Andrus will lead the Philadelphia Stars.
The teams will play a 10-week regular season which will be followed by the playoffs. For the first season, all the teams will be based in the same city.
USFL organizers will, of necessity, enter with their eyes open. As history has proven, any new football operation faces serious challenges that must be overcome quickly. The original USFL, which has no legal connection to the new entity, shut down in the mid-1980s after attempting to take antitrust action against the NFL.
The revamped version of the XFL closed in 2020, one of the first victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Alliance of American Football ran out of money and couldn’t complete its only season in 2019.
“This is a question that has historically not been resolved in terms of survival,” Riley added. “What I see the USFL doing is taking a good position this year to familiarize people with the teams and with the game that is playing right in front of them and growing from there.
“When… people can hold on to your teams, then you have a chance to last a long time.”
There are good reasons why a strong, stable, second-tier professional league is of overall value to the sport. Soccer players are able to stay in good physical shape if they’re out of the NFL or on a practice team, but it’s hard to make real technical progress without real playing action.
Riley expects several players to use the USFL as a springboard to grab the attention of NFL teams, like players such as PJ Walker, who used his success with the XFL’s Houston Roughnecks to secure a backup quarterback role with the Carolina Panthers.
Opportunity is the raison d’être of the USFL.
For the league itself, with the chance to prosper at one point in the calendar with a sporting void, filling in the time outs after March Madness and the Masters golf tournament.
For players, who have a new shot to make their mark.
And for the sports fan, for whom the end of the NFL season has passed at a frightening speed and who is looking for something to fuel his passion.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.
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