SBD/January 11, 2017/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Upstart Pacific Pro Football League To Give Young Players Alternative To College Ball

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The newly launched Pacific Pro Football league hopes to give "promising young players an alternative to college football that offers a salary and instruction they feel is lacking in the college game," according to Rick Maese of the WASHINGTON POST. NFL agent Don Yee, who serves as Pac Pro CEO, said that the goal is to "give young prospects a professional outlet to prepare for the NFL." The league launches in the "midst of a growing debate about amateurism and a college model that rewards student-athletes with scholarships but not salaries." Yee has been an "outspoken critic of the college model and says his league will treat young athletes as employees, like any other pro sports outfit." Maese reports while NFL officials have "expressed an interest in forming a developmental league of their own, Pacific Pro Football has no relationship with the NFL." However, the upstart league will be focused on preparing players "for the NFL, focusing on technique and systems required at the next level." While college football "long has served as the NFL’s de facto feeder system, organizers hope that prospects will gravitate toward an alternative that pays a salary and doesn’t have academic requirements." Other pro football leagues besides the NFL "have been short-lived." Financing has "usually been an issue," and fans have been "indifferent to the product." Pac Pro has "completed an initial round of fundraising and is in talks with potential sponsors, as well as venues from Ventura to San Diego counties." Officials said that "they’ll have some form of broadcast agreement in place, but rather than a traditional television rights deal, organizers say they might utilize a direct-to-consumer approach that might help the league connect with a younger audience" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/11).

SLOW & STEADY
: YAHOO SPORTS' Dan Wetzel writes the league "isn’t looking to compete with the NFL." Games will take place in "smaller stadiums, perhaps at a community college or a Division III college campus." There will be a "neighborhood feel to everything," as if a player "starred at a Southern California high school, he’ll be put on the team closest to campus." It is "possible the initial season will be played wholly at just two venues." If the league is successful, there are "plans to expand to another four-team pod in Northern California, or one concentrated in the Midwest" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/11). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Matthew Futterman notes the league will have a "single-entity structure rather than a franchise model, with the league controlling all team and personnel decisions" (WSJ.com, 1/11).

ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS
: In N.Y., Ken Belson notes just "paying for the necessary training facilities and transportation could be enough to bankrupt a new league." Former NFL exec Jim Steeg said, "I’ve danced with at least three of these groups before, but money was always what killed them." Steeg estimated that between $5-7M would be "needed to cover the costs" of each of the initial four teams for one season, "along with a comparable sum to run the league office." But Steeg was "encouraged that Yee was starting small and aiming for a unique pool of players, and that he had already received funding from an 'angel' investor." Yee said that he "hoped to attract enough money in the next phase of fund-raising to cover the cost of a first season" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/11). CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora tweeted, "If Pac Pro model catches on could be quite the threat to the NCAA's free-labor monopoly in that age demographic." The Wall Street Journal's Futterman noted the league "hopes not to become the XFL." Former sports agent Joel Corry: "Interesting new pro football league concept." Vice Sports' Patrick Hruby: "Yee was pretty adamant about encouraging education and planning for life after football." Sports journalist Jeremy Dawson notes Yee in a '14 article for the Washington Post "discussed potential for NCAA football alternatives."

UPHILL BATTLE: USA TODAY's Tom Pelissero notes there is a "lot of work to be done," as "there’s no endorsement or backing from the NFL or its players’ union." Plenty of players "would still choose the glory of the college game and the four-year education that comes with it." But like minor league baseball or junior hockey, Pac Pro "would be an option for players who either can’t or choose not to play on college scholarships, some of them straight out of high school" (USA TODAY, 1/11). ESPN's Mark Dominik said his main concern about the Pac Pro is that "any league that tries to get formed without the consent of NFL is a tough league to start." Dominik: "There's going to be interest because there's a lot of kids that just don't go to college that have some athletic ability, or wondering if they got a chance. I also just think it could be a train wreck" (“Mike & Mike,” ESPN Radio, 1/11).
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