Monday, June 11, 2007

Group eyes possibility of new football league

Group eyes possibility of new football league
By DAVE GOLDBERG, AP Football Writer
May 30, 2007

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is part of a group considering formation of a football league that would compete with the NFL for players drafted lower than the second round.

The league, still very much in the preliminary stage, would play its games on Friday nights. The NFL does not play then because of the potential conflict with high school football.

"It's a pretty simple concept," Cuban said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "We think there is more demand for pro football than supply."

The proposal was first disclosed by The New York Times on its Web site, which said it was the idea of Bill Hambrecht, a Wall Street investor who was a minority partner in the Oakland Invaders of the USFL, which played in the spring from 1983-85. Sharon Smith, a spokeswoman for Hambrecht and Company, had no comment and said Hambrecht was traveling and unavailable to talk about the idea.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said he was aware of the proposed league, but had no further comment.

There have been numerous leagues that have tried to compete with the NFL and a few that actually played games, starting with the AFL, which began in 1960 and fully merged with the NFL a decade later. It included such current franchises as New England, Oakland, Kansas City, San Diego, Buffalo, the New York Jets and Denver.

More recently came the World Football League in the early 1970s, which raided the NFL for such stars as Larry Csonka. Then came the USFL, which played in the spring before folding after receiving only $3 in an antitrust "victory" over the NFL.

The USFL featured such future Hall of Famers as Jim Kelly, Reggie White and Steve Young, but lost millions of dollars trying to compete for players. It also had internal struggles among a majority of owners who wanted to stay in the spring, and the best known among them, Donald Trump, who wanted to move to the fall and try to force a merger with the NFL.

The most recent pro football league was the XFL, founded by the World Wrestling Federation and televised by NBC. The XFL lasted just three months in the spring of 2001 and was best known for a player named Rod Smart, called "He Hate Me," who later played as a return man and backup running back in the NFL.

So far, the proposed new league is in its infancy and Cuban is the only potential owner for what the founders hope will be an eight-team league.

Cuban said in his e-mail he believes the salary cap makes it easier to compete financially with the NFL because of the salary imbalance that leaves lower-level players with lower salaries. That would allow the new league to fill its rosters with players taken lower than the second round, as well as late NFL cuts and free agents who escape the NFL draft.

Many such players, including Tom Brady, a sixth-round pick of New England, have become NFL stars.

"That's not to say it will be easy. It won't," Cuban wrote. "We still have to cover quite a bit of ground and have a lot of milestones to hit. That said, if we can get the right owners I obviously think we can make this work."

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