CFL threat? New spring football league has big-name backers

By Barry Wilner

Pro football – actual games – won’t disappear from TV screens, mobile devices and the American consciousness once the Super Bowl ends next February.

The Alliance of American Football will kick off the following Sunday. On network television (CBS) as well as through a multitude of free digital platforms.

Yes, spring football. We know, from the USFL to the World League to the XFL, the idea has not worked. Here’s why the Alliance has a strong chance of succeeding: the folks involved.

The Alliance is the creation of Pro Football Hall of Famer Bill Polian, one of the most respected and accomplished executives in NFL history, and Charlie Ebersol, a longtime TV and film producer. Ebersol’s father, Dick, defined NBC Sports’ programming for more than two decades and created “Sunday Night Football.” Dick Ebersol, who also pioneered NBC’s Olympic broadcasts, will serve on the board of directors.

Former players such as Justin Tuck, Hines Ward and Jared Allen will have significant roles in a league the younger Ebersol calls a “true partnership.”

“That’s the best way a league can perform and will be ultimately the key to success, having an interwoven product,” he says.

“Whenever you have an endeavour that involves the kind of teamwork football involves,” Polian adds, “it implies a partnership, the need to get their buy-in and do things, particularly in a startup, that represent their best interest … to make sure players know we have their best interests at heart. That is the guiding philosophy.”

Co-founder Polian, who built the Bills, Colts and Panthers into Super Bowl teams, will oversee the football side, helped by former player and front office executive J.K. McKay, who has been involved in other startups.

The league will have eight teams – cities and stadia to be announced, though look for complementary sites, not NFL venues, and warmer climates given the February-late April schedule. Rosters will be culled from NFL cuts to the 53-man maximum after preseason, which Polian calls “the core of our constituency”; collegians who have gone undrafted, including underclassmen who have lost any remaining eligibility; players looking to return to the sport; and free agents from the CFL or elsewhere.

As a single entity, the Alliance will own all contracts and players will be dispersed in a variety of manners. If someone played in the NFL or in college for a Florida team or school, he’d likely wind up on a Florida-based franchise, for example. There also will be a mechanism after those allocations for a team interested in a certain player to get his rights. And then coaches of specific teams will have access to a group of players outside the allocations.

A draft of players in late fall after the college season concludes – “Players who probably are coming off injury or some other situation where they want to perhaps play in our league in order to enhance their draft status,” Polian explains – also is planned.

With an eye on player safety, the Alliance also will eliminate kickoffs. There is a unique plan for onside kicks, with the team wanting to try one instead taking possession at its 35 yard-line on a fourth-and-10 to try one play to keep the ball.

“This eliminates two plays that if you were reinventing the game are plays you would probably leave out,” Polian says.

The three-point stance for linemen, judged by many a dangerous technique, also could be banned.

The preponderance of video reviews by officials won’t be an issue in the Alliance, Polian says. Each coach will be allowed two challenges and that’s it for replay.

And here’s one everybody but a placekicker will love: all extra points are 2-point conversion plays from the 2-yard line.

Ebersol has spent three years putting together the Alliance. He and Polian, backed by the numbers showing America’s passion for the sport, see a huge void the league can fill.

“Football is so dominant for six months of the year,” Ebersol says. “It even hides a number we focused on: millions of fans who stop watching the top five sports in America when football is off the air. Millions of football fans who don’t want to watch other sports.

“And there are 59 million who play fantasy sports, 29 million of them stopped when football ended.

“So what to do to really empower our fans? Fans are investors. They invest time and emotion and money … and what they get in return is the thrill of victory and agony of defeat. We wanted to empower the fans so they will be rewarded for being fans of their team, so fans have a real stake in the league.”

How will they do so?

Ebersol mysteriously says to “stay tuned.”

– AP


32 Comments on CFL threat? New spring football league has big-name backers

  1. Paul Bomber // March 20, 2018 at 12:19 pm //

    Might seem stupid, but I think you have to substantially knock the NFL off their pedestal before a secondary league from the States was any real threat to the CFL. I think concussions and general dis-interest in places like Montreal & Toronto are a bigger threat to our league (and of course, I don’t mean anyone in either of those cities actually reading this).

  2. Only a threat to the CFL is if the new league has higher salaries than the CFL. It sounds like there won’t be any free agents getting to choose to sign with the highest bidder for their services.

    It might end up as a bit of a feeder league for the CFL much like NFL Europe was.

  3. The fac that this is the second spring league to announce launch speaks to the demand for the product. The fact that the CFL has not fully exploited that demand is something that should be looked at?
    With some minor schedule tweaks and caliber of play changes….CFL could well accommodate core Canadian fans in addition to more dollars and eyeballs in US?….would be good for all

  4. Feeling Blue // March 20, 2018 at 12:59 pm //

    How is this a threat to the CFL. It’s a spring league. There are thousands of players out there. The CFL is our league. It’s unique and has been for over a 100 years.

  5. The last real threat was the AFL after that the imports came from colleges that left us scratching our heads wondering what state they could possibly represent and here we are still around There will always be a large talent pool to keep our game going and entertaining

  6. Eliminating kick offs? Seriously?

    • Awaiting Moderation // March 21, 2018 at 7:20 am //

      You haven’t been paying attention.
      The NFL has been working toward this over the past several years.
      It is deemed the most dangerous play in football.

  7. Of course it could be a threat, there may be thousands of players but the NFL takes the best and the CFL takes some of the best that can’t make the NFL.
    If this new league starts taking the best players left over out of the NCAA and NFL then the CFL will get the cast offs from this new league.
    We already have to play Canadians that are not as good as NCAA or ex-NFL players, I would hate to see the CFL with more cast offs plus the Ratio guys.

  8. What would have been great is if Randy Ambrosie could have got the CFL aligned with this… these are all top execs and it looks to be a good foundation. Immediately 16 teams could be something to look at. Or if the CFL wants to go at it alone, put pressure on ESPN to create a competing package against CBS. I always thought if the league could get a US network to invest in the league… we could easily double the money the TV deals bring in. This would solve a lot of problems.

    • Robert Shmigelsky // March 20, 2018 at 2:25 pm //

      Err no. The CFL is a Canadian league. At the very most we might let in a US city in a bordering state if they asked, but only as Canadians we’re too polite to say no.

    • You are right Byron. We did have that chance but cfl blew it when they did not let Manziel play in 2017. He is not coming now and we missed the Opportunity for millions of fre media exposure. More American would have been watching than viewership in Canada.

  9. Hopefully they get off the ground long enough to steal Chris Jones from the Roughriders.

  10. So, Bill Polian, who made his bones with the Bombers and Als in the CFL, and who not coincidentally was one of the first NFL GMs to sign a number of CFL players to NFL contracts.

    I don’t see this as any kind of major threat to the CFL. Even with the CFL shifting its schedule up a month or more this league would probably be done by the time the CFL season started. It doesn’t look like it will be competing on the salary front either, and if the CFL can secure a good TV deal in the US and boost salaries that would be even better.

    • There is a lot of money to be paid to the players in alliance league. I am curious what the base salary will be in alliance league. There are some big incentives for performance and also media draw. So it will be interesting to monitor. Cfl May lose a lot of players depending on locations of the 8 teams. More exposure for players to get back I. Nfl.

  11. This league is a show case league. Players do not even play the whole game. It is a league where the NFL or CFL will look for players. It is going no where nor is it a threat.

  12. More football … nothing wrong with that, but a CFL threat? In any given year there are over 15,000 seniors playing NCAA football of which 6,500 are scouted by pro scouts. 300 rookies go to NFL camps … sooooooooooo there are 6,200 scouted players left to go elsewhere. Where’s the threat?

    • I agree!!!Thanks for introducing the hard data into the debate. American players are a dime a dozen!!!

  13. Looks to be a SHOWCASE LEAGUE for the NFL and CFL at best. Only a 3 month season Feb. thru March or mid April at the longest. Players will be LET OUT of their contracts if they get solid offers from the NFL or CFL I believe. Good SCOUTING AVENUE for all the CFL teams to pick up a few guys who have fallen thru the pro football cracks per say. More than enough good players out there to SUPPLY 4 or 5 pro football leagues 10 times over. NFL CFL AFL AAFL XFL you name it.

  14. The cfl will be dead in 2 years

  15. I think it’s an awesome idea.
    But they should change the name of the sport to ” the alliance of American handball.
    I don’t think it makes any sense to use the term ” football” when the there is no use of the feet involved.
    Even the NFL and the cfl should look at this.
    The only guy who uses his foot in these sports gets the least amount of respect and pay.

    • Yes…..and soccer should be called kickball….cause that’s what the femmes that play it do….kick…..kick……like ballet dancers do…

      • patlynch // March 21, 2018 at 5:04 pm //

        Hey, ballet dancers are tough. When is the last time you saw a ballerina carried off on a stretcher ? Full contact ballet requires more grit than soccer . There is no diving or crying in ballet !

  16. Funny how people think of the CFL as a lesser brand then the NFL. players go to the NFL because that’s were the money is, but CFL football is way better. How many NFL players have come to the CFL and flopped? All how many players have gone from the CFL to the NFL and been successful? Many!

  17. Edward Leslie // March 22, 2018 at 4:56 am //

    They might as well get rid of the kick/ punt returns in the U.S. because you don’t see many anyway. Its mostly fair catches and the dreaded touchback. AKA: A complete waste of time. With no one point convert (or PAT as they call it), kickers are almost totally redundant, just needed for field goals.
    If this league and the new XFL make it harder for CFL clubs to sign Anerican talent, maybe the CFL could increase the number of Canadians. There are lots of good Canadian players that get stuck playing special teams and being backups to American players as it is. Plus there are tons of talented Canadians in NCAA, the four Canadian university conferences and in CJFL that get no chance to play.

  18. This is a silly conversation. How many times has this happened over the years? I watch CFL because it is a superior game that is more fun to play and watch.
    People only watch NFL to bet. I go to bars on NFL days and no one is watching. A show put on by the bar for gambling is the attraction.
    The only threat to the CFL is Budweiser, who sponsors the NFL nonsense in the bars.
    I agree that the NFL is becoming more watchable with there new timing rules and the lack of pass interference or holding calls. It still is 2 hours of commercials with 30 minutes of commentary and 30 minutes of “football”.
    The kicking game should be a large part of the game. Kick returns are one of the most exciting plays in football. This is why CFL has rules designed to make it fun to watch and punishment for not returning. (rouge)

    Worry about what you can control and enjoy the CFL as it weathers yet another american style football league.
    If you don’t enjoy the CFL. This should not concern you.

  19. Edward Leslie // March 24, 2018 at 1:26 pm //

    Bent B:
    Thanks. Yours is the voice of reason. A very good description of both Canadian and American football.

  20. Cfl will get next level player from U.s..Imports who are here careers will last longer.

  21. Edward Leslie // March 26, 2018 at 5:58 am //

    Worst case scenario: this spring league and Vince Mcmahon’s new XFL are both successful. Their schedules are before the CFL season, even if the CFL starts a month early, as it looks like they will do. And if its harder to sign American players, maybe the CANADIAN Football League could simply play more CANADIAN players.

  22. “Dick Ebersol, who also pioneered NBC’s Olympic broadcasts, will serve on the board of directors.” – Dick was one of the driving forces behind the original XFL. I bet this lasts a season. Maybe 2.

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