A new L.A.-based pro football league -- Pacific Pro Football -- will give players coming out of high school the opportunity to play for pay, as an alternative to playing college football. The developmental league is the brainchild of Don Yee, the agent for Patriots QB Tom Brady. Yee is partnering with former NFLer Ed McCaffrey to launch Pacific Pro Football’s inaugural season in July '18. The league, which will start with four teams in San Diego and L.A., will operate with a free-market system, meaning it will pay players whatever the market will bear. The league will sign players and allocate them to teams; there will not be a draft. Yee projects that the average salary and benefits will be around $50,000 for a season that includes training camp in June and a six-game regular season in July and August, plus playoffs that could extend the season to as many as eight games. Not all players will be paid the same -- some will command a premium. The Pac Pro will feature athletes who have been out of high school four years or less -- largely players who are not eligible to play in the NFL. Offers are expected to go to prospective players this winter and will also include one year paid tuition and books at local community colleges. In addition to players coming out of high school, Yee envisions players coming to the Pac Pro out of junior college or from college programs where they were not getting a chance to play. The league also could be a place for international players to develop or for D-II or D-III players to show they can play at a higher level. Each team will have a roster of 50 players. In an announcement today from Pac Pro, the league said, “For the first time, emerging football players will have a choice in determining their best path for professional development.” Yee added, “The football industry has not been innovated in a long time.”
BIG NAMES ATTACHED TO LEAGUE: Yee has assembled a roster of power brokers to run the league and advise it. Yee, a longtime agent with Yee & Dubin, will serve as CEO, while McCaffrey and his wife, Lisa, are co-Founders. Former NFL and ESPN exec Bradley Edwards has been appointed COO. Jeffrey Husvar will serve as Chief Communications Officer; he also runs SportsPlus Properties and used to work at Fox Sports and Lagardere. Vita Asset Management Founder John Chung, a senior member with New York Life Investment Management, is CFO. Pac Pro’s advisory board includes several familiar names: former NFL coach Mike Shanahan, former NFL exec Jim Steeg, Fox' Mike Pereira, ESPN's Adam Schefter and Edelman Communication's Steve Schmidt. Pereira is writing the rules for the league. The league claims it has "recently closed its angel round of financing and has begun discussions with content distributors, sponsors, facilities, and local political leaders.” Yee said he believes Pac Pro, which will play its games at a point in the calendar where there is relatively little competition for eyeballs, will be attractive for linear TV, as well as digital.
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).
NASCAR's "greatest hope for diversity has suddenly arrived," as Daniel Suarez will be the "first Mexican-born driver to compete full-time" in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series when he replaces Carl Edwards in Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 19 Toyota, according to Jeff Gluck of USA TODAY. Edwards' sudden decision to leave the sport leaves Suarez a "great chance for success, considering he has a coveted spot at JGR and will be driving a car capable of winning races." He has "never made a start" in the Cup Series, and there were not "any announced plans to do so this year." The thought was JGR was "grooming him to get there eventually, especially with sponsor Arris -- which he shared with Edwards -- behind him" (USA TODAY, 1/11). FOXSPORTS.com's Chase Wilhelm wrote the move is "not only good for Suarez, but it will also have an extremely positive effect on NASCAR as a whole, for a number of reasons." The move will "bolster NASCAR’s efforts to tap into the Latin American market." Suarez also "brings a ton of young talent and enthusiasm, which is a perfect fit for Monster Energy’s first season as the Cup Series title sponsor." It was "only a matter of time" before Suarez moved up "to NASCAR’s top level, but not even he could have predicted it would have happened this rapidly" (FOXSPORTS.com, 1/10). In Daytona Beach, Ken Willis writes Suarez replacing Edwards "might not be a total loss for NASCAR, which needs all the star power it can get." Suarez could "open new doors, but there are plenty of variables there." Willis: "The variable no one had considered ... was an up-to-speed star driver hitting the exit ramp on short notice" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 1/11). Richmond Int'l Raceway's feed tweeted, "Focused, talented, humble. @Daniel_SuarezG is a natural fit to fill the big shoes left by #CarlEdwards." Fox Sports' Alan Cavanna: "Suarez talking about his return to Mexico after the title. Says 'big names' were asking for his picture. Different from a few years ago." Motor Racing Network's Kyle Rickey: "Great to see @Daniel_SuarezG move into the Cup Series. He has been awesome 2 work with since his arrival into the states w @NASCARDiversity."
NO TV FOR NOW: USA TODAY's Gluck reported Edwards is "not leaving" NASCAR for a TV job at Fox Sports or NBC Sports, which had been the "subject of some speculation following" his retirement. Fox Sports President of Production John Entz in a statement said, "Fox Sports has really enjoyed having Carl in the booth and on our air in various capacities over the years, but speculation that he may be climbing out of the car to join the Fox NASCAR broadcast team is unfounded." An NBC spokesperson said that Edwards was "not joining that network, either" (USATODAY.com, 1/10). Edwards in his press conference remarks today said that he is "open to broadcasting career in the future" (TWITTER.com, 1/11).
LEAVING TOWN: MOTORSPORT.com's Jim Utter noted an Athenian Motorsports official "confirmed" driver John Wes Townley will "no longer compete in NASCAR." Team officials "confirmed the Athenian Motorsports organization will cease its operations, which this past season included fielding entries in ARCA, Trucks and the Xfinity Series" (MOTORSPORT.com, 1/10).
High school P Hunter Greene is "projected to be the first player chosen" in June's MLB draft, but he also represents the league’s "potential star role model in its battle to reverse the industry’s scarcity of African-American players," according to Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY. MLB's African-American population is "hovering around 8%," and the league is "trying to focus efforts on attracting more pitchers and catchers." Greene "could become the first right-handed high-school pitcher selected with the No. 1 overall pick." There were "only 14 African-American pitchers on opening day rosters last year -- 1.6% of all major-league pitchers -- and just one black Canadian-born catcher." MLB during an event this weekend in Tempe, Ariz., called the Dream Series is "hoping to show that it’s cool to be a pitcher or catcher, while also inviting collegiate and professional scouts to take a look for themselves." MLB VP/Youth & Facility Development and Dir of MLB's Urban Youth Academy Darrell Miller "believes a renewed focus on pitching and catching should make a difference." There "hasn’t been an everyday African-American catcher since Charles Johnson 12 years ago." But if "more African-Americans are funneled into these positions, MLB reasons, this spiral could end." Miller said, "If you see a guy like Hunter become a really high pick as a pitcher, I’d be thrilled. Talking about it is one thing, but seeing guys come through the academies, and the impact he could have on the mound, it gives these kids a vehicle, knowing there’s a chance" (USA TODAY, 1/11).
BATTERY CHARGERS: The Dream Series is the latest in a set of diversity-focused amateur development camps for high school pitchers and catchers created by MLB and USA Baseball. This weekend's event will take place at the Angels’ Tempe Diablo Spring Training complex and will provide pitching and catching instruction from former African-American MLB players including Dave Stewart, LaTroy Hawkins, Darren Oliver and Marquis Grissom. The Dream Series adds to other MLB and USA Baseball programs targeting minority high school players, including its Breakthrough Series baseball camps and Elite Development Invitational, and will be cost free to participants. MLB and USA Baseball also recently collaborated to create a broader Prospect Development Pipeline program for top youth players with a particular focus on technology-driven assessment and analysis (Eric Fisher, Staff Writer).
MMA fighter Mark Hunt has "filed a civil suit" against UFC, President Dana White and Brock Lesnar after Lesnar failed multiple drug tests around their July fight at UFC 200, according to Brett Okamoto of ESPN.com. The suit alleges the defendants "affirmatively circumvented and obstructed fair competition for their own benefit." It accuses the parties of "racketeering ... and fraud, among other allegations." Hunt is "seeking financial relief for damages, both physical and to his overall brand." Hunt has been "publicly upset" since it was revealed Lesnar failed multiple drug tests. Hunt: "They're allowing guys to do this. They had a chance to take all the money from this guy, because he's a cheater, and they didn't." Hunt's attorney, Christina Denning, said he is seeking damages "in the millions" (ESPN.com, 1/11).