Marshall: Dubious About New Football League

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about a new football league.

The fledgling All-American Football League is working hard to sell the idea that it will be something different when it begins play in the spring of 2008, that is has a better plan than failed leagues that came before it.

With some prominent names from college football's past on board, the new league will try to take advantage of the loyalty fans have for their schools. AAFL teams will feature players who have earned degrees from nearby universities, at least some nearby universities. Depending on which reports you believe, salaries will be in the $75,000-$100,000 range.

Former NCAA president Cedric Dempsey, former Notre Dame athletic director Gene Corrigan and former Tennessee coach and athletic director Doug Dickey are involved. Guys like Jackie Sherrill and Jim Donnan will be coaches.

Maybe it will work. But if it does, I'll be surprised. Very surprised.

The problem is this: The NFL is the most popular sport in the country because it showcases the best football players in the world. College football is massively popular because of the tremendous passion so many have for their schools.

Neither can be duplicated.

The AAFL can dress teams up in college look-alike uniforms. It can have players who played at nearby universities. That's easy. Tapping into the passion fans have for their schools won't be so easy.

It'll be minor-league pro football. It won't be Alabama football or Auburn football or Florida football. And there's no changing that. Minor-league spring football has never worked before. There's little reason to believe it'll work now.

After an email exchange with former Florida wide receiver Travis McGriff, a league spokesman, and league CEO Marcus Katz, I learned something rather amazing, at least to me. The Birmingham entry, which will be called Alabama, will feature few if any Auburn players. According to Katz, there may be some Auburn players involved. And he underlined the word "may."

Katz said it is the league's opinion that Auburn players would prefer to play against Alabama players. He also said the league would like to talk about sponsoring a team at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Now I'm more convinced than ever that it won't work.

Auburn, I feel safe in saying, will not sponsor a team at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The result will be that hundreds of thousands of Auburn fans are left out of the equation. And it's not just Auburn. The same strategy is being applied in Florida, where Florida State and Miami won't be part of the equation for the Florida team.

Certainly, it makes sense to reach out to Alabama fans. No one would argue that there are more of them in the state of Alabama than there are Auburn fans. But there are hundreds of thousands of Auburn fans, too. Ignoring them makes no sense at all.

Either way, the AAFL honchos are going to be sorely disappointed if they expect to be welcomed enthusiastically by the college football establishment in this state. Alabama and Auburn officials, the ones who have to make things work financially, are quite pleased they don't have serious pro football competition for fans and advertising dollars. And they don't want it. They also aren't going to embrace a minor-league sport that could take away attention from their own spring sports.

Players will be enthusiastic about the new league because it means more opportunities to make money, more opportunities to continue to play the game they love. There'll be some interest from fans in the short term.

But the idea that fans will view a minor-league team playing in the spring as an extension of the team they support in the fall just doesn't make a lot of sense. Limiting the marketing approach to one school in states that have more than one big-time football school makes even less sense.

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