NEW YORK (AP) — Six teams, 40-man rosters, limited salaries — and perhaps no punts, kickoffs or extra-point placements.
A home for players who can’t crack the big time to hone their skills for another shot at the NFL. Maybe even a place for collegians not yet eligible for the NFL to grow their games.
The Fall Experimental Football League plans to launch in October as a developmental league, with no NFL affiliation but with lots of intriguing ideas.
“Given the current Division I landscape in football and the collective bargaining agreement the NFL has with the union, there is more than ever a need for another platform out there,” says Brian Woods, the FXFL commissioner. “A platform like for basketball and baseball players.
“Pro football has nothing. The NFL has the practice squad, but it does not develop players because they don’t get into games. You don’t develop if you aren’t getting on the field.”
Woods, an attorney who played at Mississippi and coached as a graduate assistant at Iowa State, wouldn’t mind having a tie-in with the big boys, but that’s not immediately on the agenda. The FXFL will field teams in the New York and Boston areas; Austin, Texas; Portland, Oregon; Omaha, Nebraska; and in Florida. No city has been announced for the Florida franchise.
Former NFL players Tommie Harris, a three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, and Eric Bassey have purchased the Austin franchise.
The teams will play six games this fall in minor league baseball stadiums, with an emphasis on gaining experience. The main idea is to advance the talents of players, coaches, officials and front office executives, something NFL football operations chief Troy Vincent said in April his league is looking into for the future.
“Our long-term goal is to establish a partnership with the NFL,” Woods says, “and we feel can do that on many platforms. It would give them a way to work with younger players that they don’t currently have. We can help them train prospective NFL officials — in the NBA, every referee entering the league (in recent years) comes from NBA Developmental League.
“We can be a testing ground for proposed rules, too.”
That’s where the FXFL’s creation gets particularly noteworthy. The status quo, on and off the field, will not necessarily apply.
The league is contemplating eliminating the kicking game, which might take away excitement with no kickoff or punt returns, but add fan enthusiasm for extra points, which would be a required 2-point conversion.
“We’ll get a chance to experiment,” says Bassey, a former Rams defensive back, “and doing a little bit of everything here.”
That would include looking at college underclassmen and even high school players, a no-no for the NFL.
Mainly, the core of FXFL players will be no more than two years removed from their college careers, with the majority coming from that year’s draft class. That would include players cut in training camp or those who never even got a look from the NFL.
That approach would not impact the NCAA, and the league says it won’t actively recruit players who are still enrolled. But Woods explains that some players could come from the ranks the NFL doesn’t touch.
“We are not ruling out the possibility of working with players who have hardships,” he said. “We’ll look at it on case-by-case basis. There might even be a situation for a player right out of high school who might not want to go to college.”
The FXFL has a television deal in the works, Woods said, but details have not been released. Games will be played on weeknights, mostly Wednesdays, although the league is considering some Friday night contests in its Northeast locations where high school football is not overwhelmingly popular.
To enhance local interest, the league will give each team territorial rights, so the Austin franchise has first shot at players from Texas, for example.
Salaries will be $1,000 a week for the players. Coaches will draw from a pool of around $110,000 for the staff.
Woods and the team owners will work on setting up host families for the players, similar to what minor league baseball and hockey do. That saves on costs, but also makes the players more a part of the community.
“This league will provide the opportunity for players who otherwise might not get it,” Bassey says. “There’s those 100-150 players who don’t get drafted and this would be a perfect opportunity for them. We’re talking about extremely good athletes, and we will set up a platform for those guys to get an opportunity to prove themselves.
“Sometimes they are not ready to play at that pace of the NFL when they get out of school. Maybe they just need that one year or two years that we can provide. Or the environment in college might not have been a proper forum for them.”
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