Every professional sports league has a minor league to help develop players for the future.
Every league except the National Football League.
Wilmington High School graduate Jim “Dugan” Bailey (WHS, class of 1964) wants to fill in that gap.
As President and CEO of the United States Football League, Bailey believes a football league would work that gives players a second chance and prepares them for the NFL.
“I remember so vividly the coaches and scouts at the cutdown saying ‘This guy can play but we don’t have room on the roster or time to develop him’,” said Bailey, who worked with the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens for 21 years.
Former NFL player Marshall Faulk says the USFL would be a much-needed entity.
“There really is nowhere a player can go today to continue developing his football skills in hopes of making an NFL roster,” Faulk said in a press release prepared by the USFL. “Time and again, throughout my NFL career, I witnessed players who were very capable of making a roster who, had there been another outlet for them to get more reps in the pro system, could have made a team. As it is now, if the guys don’t adapt quickly to the pro-set, they are out and that is a shame.”
The college players drafted and signed as free agents each year have only four to six weeks during training camp to demonstrate their skills to their new teams.
“During my years as a player and after my retirement in 2006, a common topic of discussion among coaches, front offices, players and the sports media has been the need for a D-League. Supplemental player development for the NFL is long overdue and desperately needed,” Faulk was quoted as saying in the release. “Yes, there have been various attempts at leagues over the years, but none have endured. It’s time to figure this out and make it happen.”
READY TO RESIGN: Bailey said the rights to the name “United States Football League” had gone dormant since the original USFL ceased operations following the 1985 season “so a guy was able to pick it up for next to nothing.” As things turned out, that was one of the few good moves the new USFL made in its early days.
Bailey said league officials had little clarity as to a plan to make the new league work long-term. Jim Steeg, who was associated with the NFL for 35 years and is credited with growing the Super Bowl into the “event” it is today, was responsible for getting Bailey involved with the USFL.
Bailey began as a consultant with the USFL thanks to Steeg but then Steeg “got frustrated” and left the fledgling venture. Bailey later realized that same frustration and went into the USFL’s offices one day in 2013 “intending to resign as a consultant.”
However, one of the prime executives involved with the USFL at the time “confessed to some legal issues and resigned.”
So USFL officials asked Bailey to take over. He was willing but had several conditions. Among the conditions, Bailey did not want the USFL to be a competitor to the NFL but rather a minor league; none of the USFL franchises would be located in NFL cities; and the league would have to have its finances in place before one hire would be made.
NOT YOUR FATHER’S USFL: Bailey had been involved in the start of another pro football league (All-American Football League) that didn’t work. Bailey said the AAFL idea of playing its games in college stadiums with players who had primarily played with that college but were not drafted was a good idea.
However, finances always seemed to be a hurdle a new football league couldn’t overcome. Bailey’s proposal was to make sure the USFL had its finances in order prior to committing to the formation of franchises or the drafting of players. In addition, Bailey said the league would own each franchise and disseminate players and coaches in a systematic, fair manner.
“As I looked at other people who had attempted, with one exception, those leagues failed because of financial failures,” said Bailey, a member of the Clinton County Sports Hall of Fame. “I don’t want to be in a position where we make commitments to cities, coaches, players and then not be able to keep our commitments.”
The old USFL — and World Football League for that matter — tried to compete with the NFL. Truthfully, they were doomed from the start.
“Their idea was that if you get started, get people excited, then the capitalization will follow,” said Bailey. “It hasn’t worked out … ever.”
MONEY FIRST: Bailey said the new USFL has decided its first step would be to raise $5 million to cover legal and marketing costs of putting together a private placement. That private placement, Bailey continued, will then raise upwards of $500 million, targeting a largely untapped source of wealth which is estimated in the trillions of dollars.
“When we have the $5 million and the process of (acquiring) the $500 million is going on, then we’ll start talking to cities. As the process goes along, say we get to $250 million and see how it’s going, and we can be sure we are going to get the $500, then we’ll start talking to people so that when we do get to the $500 million, we are ready to sign people up, sign contracts, make commitments.”
SEASON CALENDAR: If the USFL gets its finances in line and begins forging city, player and coaching commitments, Bailey said the season would begin in mid-March with eight teams. Each team would play a home and away schedule with every other team, 14 regular season games in other words.
There would be a four-team playoff with the championship game to be contested prior to the start of NFL training camps.
Bailey said the league does not plan to have a pre-season schedule. There would be several opportunities for weeks off from the schedule, such as during holidays or major events like college basketball’s Final Four.
“It won’t be ideal but this is not an ideal situation anyway,” he said. “Our players are going to be free to sign (at any time) with the NFL. If a team wants to come along and sign our star quarterback (in mid-season), we’ll let them do it.”
PLAYER POOL: Based on the NFL’s 90 player roster as training camps begin, there would be 2,880 prospective players who are vying for either a place on the 53-player roster or 10-player practice squad. In all, that means 2,016 players are committed to NFL teams.
That leaves 764 players who went to camp but are without professional football jobs when rosters and practice squads are set.
“It’s really a passion to give these guys another chance that is driving us,” Bailey said. “There’s a lot of good talent out there.”
Said USFL board member and NFL Hall of Famer Paul Warfield, “Many of these young men have what it takes, but may lack the experience, maturity or familiarity with the pro system.”
WILMINGTON TEAM: Keeping in mind the finances have yet to be obtained that would allow the USFL to move forward with discussions with franchises locations, Bailey said several cities are on the league’s “radar.”
Among those cities are Albuquerque, Austin, Birmingham, Columbus, El Paso, Grand Rapids, Hartford, Louisville, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Omaha, Orlando, Portland, Raleigh, Richmond, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, Tucson, Tulsa and Virginia Beach.
However, when asked the former Hurricane football and track and field standout wouldn’t dismiss his hometown as a possibility.
“We could make it a regional thing,” he said. “The only thing I’d be hesitant about is we are in the Bengals’ market. But I wouldn’t rule it out. It’s something we’d have to look at. It’s worth thinking about.”
Bailey said several companies are making “stadiums in a box” that would allow for a portable structure to be the home of a USFL team where a stadium isn’t already in place.
“I haven’t seen one yet, but what that does for us is it allows us to pick our best markets without the ideal stadiums,” said Bailey.
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, or on Twitter @wnjsports