Posted: January 29th, 2017
By: Jacky Brammer*| Staff Writer
Diehard football fans may have yet another outlet for their passion if sports agent Don Yee has his way. Yee, who represents New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, has plans for a new football league to start in the summer of 2018.
The league (Pacific Pro Football League) would cater to 18-21 year old athletes who want to play professional football immediately and get paid immediately. The venture would consist of four teams, all based out of Southern California, playing a six-game schedule plus playoffs that would run during the summer and would end before NFL and NCAA schedules begin. Players would earn approximately $50,000 in salary, have 401(k) plans, and have an opportunity at a free community college education.
By restricting the season length to end before the NFL and college football seasons begin, Yee and supporters hope to avoid the pitfalls that caused other recent football leagues to fail like the USFL. The USFL, a counterpoint to the NFL from 1983-1985, had similar hopes and plans: having fewer teams, lower salaries, and staying out of the NFL’s way by playing in the spring.
When Donald Trump became owner of one of the league’s marquee teams, The New Jersey Generals, the USFL veered into a collision with the NFL as it expanded from 8 to 18 teams, moved their playing schedule to the fall, signed players to lucrative contracts to pull them away from the NFL, and sued the NFL for antitrust violations in federal court. While the USFL won the suit, they were only awarded nominal damages of $1. Broke and diminished, the USFL quietly disbanded in 1985.
The XFL, a similar venture spearheaded by professional wrestling tycoon Vince McMahon, suffered a similar fate in 2001. The football league was one of the first and only sports leagues to have a major broadcast network, NBC, among its owners. The league opened to fanfare and great ratings in February, 2001. Within a few months, the ratings had bottomed out amidst a debacle of poorly played football, flashy gimmicks, technical difficulties, raunchy and un-PC content, and anti-NFL screeds. NBC decided not to renew their television deal and the XFL was finished by May, 2001.
Yee appears to want to maximize the strengths of the USFL and XFL while eliminating their risks. While still in its formative stages, Yee and other developers and advisors, including former NFL coach Mike Shanahan and ESPN personality and NFL reporter Adam Shefter, are considering gimmicks akin to the XFL that include potentially doing away with kickoff and punt returns or limiting blitzing and zone defenses to allow for a more entertaining and quarterback-friendly game.
Yee also stresses that the league will be different from other attempts at football leagues because it will focus on the post-high school players who are ineligible for the NFL and that could forego college to play for salary right away.
However, Yee seems unclear as to whether he wants to be a feeder system or competition to the NFL and NCAA, and that is part of the problem. For any league like Yee is proposing to get off the ground and avoid the problems of the USFL and XFL, it needs an identity and clear objectives. Yet, it is unclear whether Yee’s proposed league will only offer minimal salary compensation or will forego a salary cap and endorse deep pocket contracts for big name high school talent. When pressed about the issue, Yee only commits to offering high school athletes a “choice.”
Other lingering questions include how the league will deal with players once they “age out” of the 18-21 year old ideal. Will they be encouraged to enter the NFL draft? Or will the league try to keep the better players under contract and away from the NFL spotlight? With league schedules theoretically running through NFL offseason and into NFL preseason and mini-camps, will prospective league players be interested in a season that again limits their ability to transition into the NFL system?
Another glaring concern is the growing saturation of the football market in the greater Los Angeles area. With USC and UCLA always posing a natural destination for high school football talent from around the country, Yee’s proposed league will also have to deal with three NFL franchises: the everpresent Oakland Raiders, the Los Angeles Rams, and the new arrivals for next year, the formerly San Diego Chargers, whose recent decision to relocate to L.A. drew criticism of adding to an already overexposed market.
There is no doubt that Yee faces an uphill battle in simultaneously taking on pro football, college football, and Los Angeles in one swoop. His league’s chances of success seem small and the venture, his investors agree, seems risky, but the return could be huge and change the landscape of modern American sports.
Jacky Brammer is a second year law student at Wake Forest University School of Law. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in American history and English from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Master of Arts in English literature from The University of North Carolina Greensboro. Upon graduation, he intends to pursue a career in public interest law and criminal defense.